With help from Jakob Hanke Vela, John Hendel and Suzanne Lynch
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— Frequency fight: AT&T is going up against the FCC today in court, as it seeks to block an agency order to free up the airwaves.
— Not so fast: European officials are setting expectations low for the first meeting of the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council.
— Seeing greens: Environmental groups are ratcheting up the pressure on tech companies, as lobbying groups threaten to derail Democrats’ climate change initiatives.
IT’S FRIDAY, SEPT. 17. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. It’s been a long, long week, but we’ve made it to the end. In a couple of hours, it’ll finally be the weekend.
Got a news tip? Email me at [email protected] and find me on Twitter @benjamindin. Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Team info below. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
TODAY: JUDGES HEAR BRAWL OVER WI-FI — The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will today hear an AT&T-led lawsuit over the Trump-era FCC’s unanimous decision to open the entire 6 GHz band of airwaves for unlicensed use, like Wi-Fi. Tech and cable companies like Facebook and Comcast loved this decision, but many other parties — including AT&T, broadcasters, electric utilities and public safety officials — fear that offering up that entire band of spectrum could disturb other important services that already rely on it.
— Why does freeing up Wi-Fi spectrum matter? A little innovation known as “Wi-Fi 6,” the next generation of home wireless service, which is better positioned to handle large amounts of data. Then-FCC Chair Ajit Pai had proclaimed this agency vote would help usher in next-gen Wi-Fi offerings for consumers — and indeed, these days there’s no shortage of routers and other devices touting they’re capable of Wi-Fi 6.
Lawyers for the Biden administration and acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel have stood by the Trump-era FCC’s order, vigorously defending it in a 105-page court filing early this year and citing the agency’s engineering expertise and its consideration of potential risks. But the decision’s detractors, like utility Southern Company, have warned the FCC in recent months, urging the agency to stop permitting new devices to operate in the 6 GHz band.
The panel of judges hearing this morning’s case consists of Clinton appointee David Tatel, Obama appointee Patricia Millett and Trump appointee Justin Walker. The appeals court previously denied an attempt to freeze implementation of the FCC order.
— Continued agency support: Rosenworcel has emerged as an enthusiastic supporter of the 6 GHz decision, calling it “quietly revolutionary.” She recently scheduled a Sept. 30 vote to kick off follow-up plans for safeguarding the sharing of these airwaves.
‘DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH’ FOR PITTSBURGH — That’s what European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager told Brussels Playbook authors Suzanne Lynch and Jakob Hanke Vela in an interview about the upcoming EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council meeting in the Steel City.
— Managing expectations: Vestager warned that the meeting in two weeks is just “inaugural,” and said the expectation was for “the next meetings to be much more in-depth on substance and much more detailed.” One major reason for that: There’s been a lot of back-and-forth between EU member countries. “We would want to have the Council on board, … and this is also one of the reasons why I’m a bit reluctant about the maturity of what we will be able to discuss” with the Americans, Vestager said.
— The China angle: Vestager said she wouldn’t be approaching the meeting with an anti-China view, but a “pro-democracy” one. “It really makes a difference in your approach,” she said, adding that there were issues the two parties “would naturally agree on … where China would disagree.” At the top of Vestager’s agenda is so-called trustworthy AI — that is, how to boost user trust in AI systems by ensuring accuracy and mitigating biases. (More on those efforts from Melissa Heikkilä.)
— Not on the table: Don’t expect a deal on transatlantic data flows, no matter how much Washington and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has been clamoring for one. “To find a way to make data streams work … it’s not just around the corner,” Vestager said.
The European Commission is adamant that those talks are not part of the upcoming Trade and Technology Council discussions, Vincent Manancourt and Mark Scott report for Pros. Previous attempts at a data transfer deal have been struck down by European courts over insufficient privacy guarantees for EU data. Before a deal can be viable, EU officials will want to see legislative changes from the U.S. — not just White House executive orders — that curb how U.S. national security agencies can access European data.
CLIMATE DEMANDS HIT TECH’S DOORSTEP — Environmental activists are sending a message to tech companies and their CEOs: less talk, more action. They want to see tougher enforcement on climate disinformation, as well as a repudiation of lobbying efforts against House Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending package, which includes huge outlays for renewable energy and climate disaster response.
— For or against? Environmental groups are continuing their campaign against pro-business lobbying groups, like the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which are opposed to the partisan spending package. In an open letter on Thursday, more than 30 advocacy groups called on CEOs of major corporations, including Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, to reaffirm their companies’ commitments to climate change initiatives.
“There is no time to waste in distancing yourself from these efforts,” wrote the leaders of the groups, including the Climate Action Campaign, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Center for American Progress, the Sunrise Movement and Public Citizen.
The letter is also addressed to the CEOs of Adobe, Dell Technologies, HP, Netflix, PayPal, Salesforce and Workday.
— Tackling disinformation: Facebook — whose CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is not a member of the Business Roundtable — announced Thursday new initiatives it is taking to combat climate disinformation, such as adding informational quizzes to its Climate Science Center and investing $1 million in a grant program for fact-checking groups.
In rebuttal, environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth released a report examining climate-related disinformation during Texas’ power outages in February and found that while social media platforms did take action, they failed to add fact-checking labels to several offending posts. Michael Khoo, who co-chairs the group’s Climate Disinformation Coalition, called Facebook’s actions Thursday “far too little, far too late.” (Facebook responded to the report saying many of the disinformation examples “are simply positions that the organization disagrees with.”)
Nick Pacilio, a senior comms manager at Twitter, is leaving to lead crypto comms at Andreessen Horowitz. He is a Kamala Harris alum. … Mark Nelson is joining T-Mobile as EVP and general counsel. … Stephanie Montgomery will join the XR Association as VP of research and best practices. She was previously VP of technology and standards at the Telecommunications Industry Association. Joan O’Hara has been promoted to VP of public policy and Laura Chadwick to VP of industry relations.
Acting Pentagon CIO John Sherman has been nominated for the permanent job. … Crystal Patterson has joined FSB Public Affairs’ D.C. office as managing director and senior vice president. She was previously head of global civic partnerships at Facebook. … Christina Smedley, chief marketing and comms officer at Robinhood, is leaving the company. She is a Facebook, Paypal and Amazon alum.
Scott Lindlaw, managing director at Sard Verbinnen, has moved to the firm’s D.C. office from its San Francisco one. Lindlaw, a former AP White House correspondent, will continue to help clients prepare for and respond to cybersecurity crises; litigation, especially IP; mergers and acquisitions and IPOs; and all types of matters that affect valuation and reputation.
Uber is partnering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Anheuser-Busch to end drunk driving with a nationwide campaign called “Decide to Ride.”
Change is coming: “The Battle for Digital Privacy Is Reshaping the Internet,” NYT reports.
Blackout: With the Taliban in power, internet outages are being reported in Afghanistan. The Daily Beast dives in.
Facebook files: “Facebook Employees Flag Drug Cartels and Human Traffickers. The Company’s Response Is Weak, Documents Show.” WSJ has more.
Not like the rest: “One U.S. state stands out in restricting corporate use of biometrics: Illinois,” Reuters reports.
Podcast OTD: Instagram chief Adam Mosseri chats with Recode’s Peter Kafka following the WSJ’s story about Instagram’s research on how the app affects teenagers.
Case dismissed: “U.S. court upholds dismissal of lawsuit against NSA on ‘state secrets’ grounds,” Reuters reports.
So much for that: Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s ban on social media networks removing posts that break their rules against misinformation has been overturned, via NYT.
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HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!