With help from John Hendel, Cristiano Lima and Daniel Lippman
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— #Zuckwatch: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is back in Washington for a talk on free speech, the latest in an unusual flurry of D.C. visits as the company faces backlash from 2020 candidates, antitrust regulators and others.
— POLITICO exclusive: In a wide-ranging interview with our tech reporter Cristiano Lima, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman voiced concern about competition in the tech sector and raised skepticism about Zuckerberg’s call for governments to regulate on content moderation.
— Pai on the Hill: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai faces a grilling today from Senate appropriators on how he’ll handle a coming auction of coveted 5G airwaves known as the C-band.
SHORT WEEK, EH? IT’S THURSDAY; WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. For those reading from the Bay Area, check out “The Glass Room,” a newly-opened, interactive art installation in San Francisco that explores how tech is affecting our personal data, privacy, security and…well, sanity. (As Ashkan Soltani aptly put it: “Think of it as ‘Black Mirror’ but in real life.”)
Got a news tip? Write Alex at [email protected] or @Ali_Lev. An event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
ZUCKERBERG AT GEORGETOWN — Mark Zuckerberg returns to the belly of the beast to address Georgetown students today on, according to a Wednesday Facebook post, the internet’s role in free expression, the challenges of where the two meet and how the social network can counter threats to free speech around the world. “It’s the most comprehensive take I’ve written about my views,” Zuck wrote as he drafted his speech. “It’s an unfiltered take on how I think about these questions.”
— The cameo comes amid a flurry of Zuck visits to Washington — unusual for the CEO who has, in the past, leaned more on company executives like COO Sheryl Sandberg or Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications, to step out in public. But the extra facetime comes as the company faces heat from all sides. Facebook has drawn particular fire from 2020 contender Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has long called for a Facebook breakup over what she says are abuses stemming from the company’s outsize market power — power that she’s now implicating in slamming Facebook for letting President Donald Trump lie in campaign ads. The tech giant also faces antitrust probes from the FTC, state attorneys general, Congress and possibly the Justice Department. And Zuck is preparing to testify at a hearing next week on the company’s embattled digital currency, Libra.
MEANWHILE: REDDIT CEO HAS A BONE TO PICK WITH ZUCKERBERG — Reddit chief Steve Huffman told POLITICO he’s skeptical of Zuckerberg’s “call to have governments regulate how online platforms deal with harmful content like hate speech and terrorist propaganda, warning that such rules could disproportionately benefit tech giants and hurt smaller companies,” Cristiano reports. “It’s natural for Facebook to say something like that because they are big enough, they employ an army of thousands of lawyers who can withstand [legal challenges],” Huffman told Cristiano on Wednesday, fresh off his first-ever congressional testimony at a House Energy and Commerce hearing. “I think that’s a tried and true tactic of regulatory capture from big companies to stay big by keeping out smaller companies.”
— Bigger picture: “The notion that new regulations will only help established giants that were able to grow unaccountably large without them isn’t a new one,” Cristiano writes. “But Huffman could find policymakers particularly receptive to his views as Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants come under fire from lawmakers in Washington and candidates on the 2020 campaign trail.” Read the exclusive here.
TODAY: 5G PRESSURE ON PAI — FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is in the hot seat today, facing Senate appropriators armed with questions about how he’ll approach a coming auction of the 5G airwaves known as the C-band. His options are holding an FCC-run sale that proponents say could free more spectrum and come with more public interest benefits, or letting the satellite providers who now hold the airwaves proceed with a faster private sale (they’ll make a big donation to the U.S. Treasury if so, they promise).
— “I need to ask the FCC what they’re planning on doing and whether they’re going to do the right thing and bid this out and put the American taxpayer first or are they going to do a smoke-filled-room private deal,” Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee, told John this week (more in yesterday’s MT). Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the Congressional Spectrum Caucus, added in a letter to Pai on Wednesday that she remains “strongly concerned that certain proposals to abdicate the Commission’s requirement to conduct a public auction are both unprecedented and unlawful.” She added, “Only the Commission can fulfill its requirements under the Communications Act to distribute licenses. … The Commission cannot cede this authority to private parties — especially parties that have a financial interest in the outcome.”
— Pai has said he’ll make a decision this fall but hasn’t offered specifics; we’re watching for any hints he may offer about how much spectrum a C-band order should free up and how the auction might be structured.
— Also testifying following Pai’s appearance: Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz and Taxpayers Protection Alliance President David Williams, both of whom oppose a private C-band auction. One notable new counterweight, however: Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist wrote appropriators to laud the idea of a private sale and the revised plan put forth by the satellite operators in the C-Band Alliance. “It is fortunate that the incumbent satellite companies have shown a willingness to work with the FCC to find a win-win solution to re-organizing the band,” Norquist wrote.
HARRIS EXTENDS FEUD WITH TWITTER — A campaign spokesperson for Sen. Kamala Harris tore into Twitter after the company formally rejected the lawmaker’s request for the platform to suspend the president’s account. “As Donald Trump uses his tweets to incite violence, threaten witnesses and investigators, obstruct justice, and inspire mass shooters and pipe bombers, this response is inadequate,” Harris’ national press secretary said in a statement to MT. Twitter public policy lead Vijaya Gadde wrote to Harris on Tuesday that a series of tweets Harris argued violated Twitter’s rules “do not violate our policies against abusive behavior, targeted harassment, or violence on the service.”
CANTWELL FAVORS SHORTER SATELLITE TV REAUTH — Top Senate Commerce Democrat Maria Cantwell (Wash.) this week told John she would support a shorter time frame for reauthorizing the expiring satellite TV law known as STELAR. Some lawmakers want the Dec. 31 expiration to spur a reauthorization measure that could be a vehicle for overhauling U.S. TV marketplace law. But Cantwell said that’s likely not in the cards, noting, “I think people are [just] trying to figure out if we can get the reauthorization or not,” and that she’s not aware of any bigger policy riders on the table now: “I know the deadline is approaching, so we’re trying to figure it all out.” She once was hopeful for attaching riders, as Pro subscribers will recall.
— The expiring STELAR law has lasted for five years, a typical timeframe for these satellite TV reauthorizations, which go back decades and connect some remote satellite TV households with broadcast programming from distant markets (an arrangement broadcasters say is now obsolete). But Cantwell and others suggest that timeframe could change. “I think shorter’s better, personally,” she told John. “I just think the world is changing so fast.” She noted changing consumer habits, such as younger Americans cutting the TV cord. And don’t forget: At least one top GOP lawmaker is also mulling a different length for a reauth. Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) earlier this fall said he’s “not wedded” to a typical five-year bill. Expect chatter on this at the panel’s newly announced Oct. 23 hearing on STELAR, featuring testimony from broadcasters and DirecTV parent AT&T.
SPOTTED — Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and House Energy and Commerce ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) at BSA | The Software Alliance’s Software Champion Awards Reception on Wednesday, where the lawmakers were honorees, as were the Girl Scouts of the USA. Other attendees included Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Will Hurd (R-Texas), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Ben Cline (R-Va.), Lou Correa (D-Calif.), Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), John Rutherford (R-Fla.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.) and William Timmons (R-S.C.).
AND FINALLY, JUST FOR FUN: THE GOOG IN WASHINGTON — A three-day popup with Google trust and safety and D.C. outreach experts is running through tonight at Union Station and Federal Triangle. They’re handing out free, cold-pressed juices from Jrink and Google-wrapped newspapers, and offering personal consultations on their security and privacy tools. Pic.
Former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), who stepped down last year from her role as Google’s top lobbyist, has landed at APCO Worldwide, where she’ll be a member of APCO’s International Advisory Council, POLITICO Influence reports. … Jan Fowler Antonaros, former senior vice president at the Washington Tax and Public Policy Group, has joined Google as a policy adviser focused on tax, financial services, health care and workforce development; Scott Deutchman, former vice president and deputy general counsel at Neustar, joined the search giant as a senior policy advisor focused on telecom, spectrum, privacy and intellectual property.
Plus, some news from TechCongress’ Congressional Innovation Fellows: Aaron Barruga, who previously worked for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), has joined the defense systems startup Epirus as vice president of development; Allison Hutchings, who worked for Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), is now a technology policy adviser for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); and Maggi Molina, who worked for Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), has joined Demand Progress as the group’s policy manager.
Donor digest: As 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren blasts big tech companies, their workers are handing her their money, POLITICO reports.
Benioff says: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff supports breaking up Facebook, he told CNN.
What the: “SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s infamous pot-smoking incident last year prompted NASA to order a mandatory review of the federal contractor’s workplace culture — but taxpayers, not the company, are bearing the cost,” POLITICO reports.
ICYMI: “The FCC has approved the T-Mobile-Sprint merger in a 3-2 party-line vote,” John reports for Pros.
More T-Mo-Sprint: “A number of civil rights groups have struck an agreement with T-Mobile-Sprint to expand on the companies’ diversity initiatives significantly if the two close on their merger,” Multichannel News reports.
Gotta watch ‘em all: Games like Pokemon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite collect a surprising amount of location and other data from players, an investigation by video game website Kotaku found.
Speaking of: “Congress Must Regulate the Location Data Industry,” Jeff Glueck, CEO of Foursquare, writes in The New York Times.
Online safety deep-dive: “The Trolls Are Organized and Everyone’s a Target,” a new report from the Anti-Defamation League, measures the impact of online hate and harassment and makes recommendations for social platforms to address those problems.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Kyle Daly ([email protected], @dalykyle), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), Steven Overly ([email protected], @stevenoverly), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano) and Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected],@Ali_Lev).
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