With help from Leah Nylen, John Hendel and Mark Scott
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— Klobuchar’s kick-off: As the Senate Judiciary antitrust panel begins hearings on the need for competition reform in America, Facebook and Google are going to great lengths to show they’re not as giant, or as harmful, as many allege.
— Scooplet: A new study shared exclusively with Morning Tech shows that a majority of the biggest corporations in America have been targets of antitrust scrutiny in recent decades.
— New this morning: Senate and House Democrats are revealing their nearly $100 billion blueprint to close the digital divide — and they plan to forge ahead with or without Republicans on board.
IT’S THURSDAY, ONE YEAR SINCE THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION DECLARED THE CORONAVIRUS A PANDEMIC. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine, hoping you and yours are staying safe and healthy all this time later.
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ANTITRUST IN AMERICA: FROM BIG TECH TO CASKETS AND CAT FOOD — Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is ready to use her gavel: The Senate Judiciary’s antitrust chair kicks off her first hearing today zooming in on increasing concentration across the U.S. economy.
— Meet the witnesses: Nancy Rose, a former top DOJ antitrust economist, will highlight recommendations that she and other Obama-era vets have proposed. Open Markets’ Barry Lynn is focusing on the threat that Google, Facebook and Amazon represent to American democracy, while Consumer Reports’ George Slover will raise concerns about competition in health care, wireless broadband, household appliances and air travel.
On the Republican side, Ashley Baker of the Committee for Justice will urge senators not to abandon the focus on consumers as they consider reforms, while Jan Rybnicek, formerly of the FTC and now with the law firm Freshfields, will make the case that today’s antitrust lets businesses invest, innovate and thrive or fail on their merits. (Freshfields is representing Google in the antitrust suits brought by Texas and other states over advertising technology.)
MT is really hoping for more discussion about Big Cat Food because the fat cat jokes are too good to pass up.
FIRST IN MT: MAYBE BIG IS ACTUALLY BAD? — Ahead of the hearing this morning, the American Economic Liberties Project is out with new research on competition suits and investigations into big companies. The anti-monopoly group found that of the 76 U.S. corporations valued at more than $100 billion, 80 percent have been subject to antitrust scrutiny in the past 30 years. “When firms are too big, they tend to abuse their dominance through illegal business practices,” the group said. What do the tech companies have to say about that?
FACEBOOK: WE’RE NOT A MONOPOLY — The social network on Wednesday finally hit back at the FTC and state attorneys general, who filed twin antitrust suits against the company in December over its acquisitions and efforts to cut off access to rivals. In a pair of filings, Facebook asked U.S. District Judge James Boasberg to throw out the lawsuits. More on Facebook’s arguments and strategy here, from Leah.
— While the FTC and states have until next month to officially respond to Facebook, New York Attorney General Tish James, who is leading the state effort, offered some immediate reaction: “Facebook is wrong on the law and wrong on our complaint. We are confident in our case, which is why almost every state in this nation has joined our bipartisan lawsuit to end Facebook’s illegal conduct.”
AND GOOGLE: WE SUPPORT NEWS. REALLY — Ahead of (what is likely to be) a shellacking on Friday at the House Judiciary antitrust hearing on how online platforms affect journalism, Google is highlighting how it seeks to support news. The online search giant this morning is debuting a new microsite on how it helps journalism, claiming for itself the title of “one of the world’s biggest financial supporters of journalism.”
KLOBUCHAR: GOP BUY-IN NOT VITAL TO MOVE $94B FOR BROADBAND — Senate and House Democrats this morning are formally unveiling a revamped $94 billion plan to close the digital divide, and Klobuchar, who also co-chairs the Senate Broadband Caucus, tells John the party will find a way to move the package — with or without GOP support.
— The magic word of reconciliation: Congressional Democrats just used the tool of budget reconciliation to advance their $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package without Republican votes, and Klobuchar says that if need be, Democrats should use the tool again to finally act on broadband infrastructure. “You’ve got public behind us in an even bigger, visceral way,” she said. “You’ve got a president in the White House that has made infrastructure his No. 1 priority after the pandemic, who really wants to move on this.”
— House Majority Whip Jim Jim Clyburn, too, said broadband legislation can’t wait: The South Carolina Democrat, who is leading the legislation in the House, suspects it’ll get lumped in with broader comprehensive infrastructure efforts in his chamber to fund roads and bridges. Both he and Klobuchar cited GOP enthusiasm around these issues, despite their bullishness on acting soon one way or another — Clyburn said about a dozen of his GOP colleagues have expressed interest in partnering with Democrats on broadband, even as the contours of consensus remain less clear. Read the full dispatch on the bill here.
SCOOP: NET NEUTRALITY SUPPORTERS, START YOUR ENGINES — More than 20 progressive groups including Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Public Citizen are revving up their Battle for the Net pressure campaign, which they used in recent years to rally support for the FCC’s former net neutrality rules. It’s just the latest sign that interest in reinstating Obama-era net neutrality rules is rising in Washington: As we reported last week in MT, FCC action and legislation from top lawmakers could also soon be in the cards.
— The newly relaunched website urges supporters to message the White House and senators to demand that Democrats quickly nominate and confirm a fifth FCC commissioner who supports a return to the type of Obama-era net neutrality rules that Republicans repealed in 2017.
And one additional ask from progressives: Make sure the new FCC nominee doesn’t have ties to the telecom industry — which would limit the pool of contenders and cut out some like Smitty Smith, a telecom lawyer who was on the Biden FCC transition team and has represented T-Mobile.
WARNER: WESTERN ALLIES SHOULD TEAM UP AGAINST CHINA — Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has a message for America’s allies: Let’s join forces to beat Beijing on tech. “This is the defining economic issue of our time,” he told my colleague Mark Scott in Digital Bridge, POLITICO’s transatlantic tech newsletter. “If you have a coalition of the willing, that’s what’s needed to speed up the West’s response to China.” Warner has proposed bipartisan legislation to build democratic alliances around digital policymaking, as well as to set aside $5 billion for joint tech research projects between the U.S. and other Western countries.
— It won’t be an easy task: Many of Washington’s allies are still smarting from the last four years of Donald Trump. Many, too, have their own thoughts on tech, including the European Union’s efforts to reclaim its “technological sovereignty” from both the U.S. and China.
Warner acknowledged that challenge. “The top line argument is good,” he said in reference to teaming up on a democratic response to China’s growing digital presence. “The ability to execute is a fully valid question.”
Billy Easley, who previously worked on tech and criminal justice policy at Americans for Prosperity, is joining Reddit in April as U.S. policy manager. … Robin Colwell, who was previously Trump’s National Economic Council point person on tech and telecom, is now helping clients at BGR Group.
In profile: Katrina Parrott, via WaPo. “She brought diverse skin tones emoji to the iPhone. Now she’s suing Apple.”
Free speech crackdown: “The Russian government said on Wednesday that it was slowing access to Twitter… signaling that the Kremlin is escalating its offensive against American internet companies that have long provided a haven for freedom of expression,” NYT reports.
Access denied: “Apple denied Parler’s application to get back on its App Store,” WaPo reports.
Chopping the China-Cali link: “A Facebook consortium withdrew its bid to build a new internet conduit between California and Hong Kong after months of pressure from U.S. national-security officials,” WSJ reports, “the latest sign of a deepening rift between the two governments.”
Be on the lookout: “The FBI warned in an alert Wednesday that malicious actors ‘almost certainly’ will be using deepfakes to advance their influence or cyber-operations in the coming weeks,” CyberScoop reports. (As if the latest Tom Cruise deepfakes weren’t unnerving enough.)
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).