Democrats propose foundation to boost digital equity efforts

Happy Thursday! If you or a lawmaker you know met with Apple CEO Tim Cook yesterday, you know where to find me: [email protected].

Below: A California bill could get challenged by the tech industry, and a European court upholds a $4 billion antitrust fine against Google. First:

Democrats propose foundation to boost digital equity efforts

Last year, Washington took its biggest step toward closing the so-called digital divide — the gap between those who have internet access and those who don’t — by approving a massive infusion of funds for expanding broadband nationwide.

But improving internet access is only part of the battle. Lawmakers have long voiced concern that disparities in access to technical training and other barriers prevent communities from reaping the full benefits of using the internet, and pushed for funding to address it.

Under a new Democratic proposal set to be introduced Thursday, the government would have a new ally in the fight: a nonprofit foundation tasked with aiding efforts to close discrepancies in internet access, digital literacy and online participation.

Proposed by Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), the legislation would create a foundation to help make sure private and public internet initiatives are prioritizing equal access through grants, training and research.

While the legislation’s proponents have hailed the $65 billion approved by Congress toward expanding internet access as a watershed moment in the push to close the digital divide, they are calling for a new foundation to make sure other digital gaps are bridged, too.

“As our world rapidly shifts online, Americans must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to use technology properly and successfully,” Luján, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on communications, media and broadband, told The Technology 202.

Under the Digital Equity Foundation Act, the Commerce Department would establish a foundation mirroring those set up by other federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

The foundation would be led by a board made up of individuals with “broad and general experience in matters relating to digital equity, digital inclusion, or digital literacy,” who would be tasked with augmenting parallel efforts out of the Commerce Department and the Federal Communications Commission, which together oversee issues of internet access.

Luján said the legislation “ensures the decision-makers will consist of tech experts that reflect the diverse communities that are in need of these investments who will work closely with federal agencies to support and uplift digital equity-focused programs.”

The bill, shared exclusively with The Technology 202, would build on the $65 billion funding boost for expanding access tucked into Congress’s major infrastructure law, which also included key digital equity initiatives.

While that legislation marked a historic investment, proponents of Luján’s legislation say a permanent nonprofit foundation would help ensure the funds are accomplishing their aim: of making sure all Americans are able to get online and make the most of that internet access.

The push has prominent backers in Luján, who has played a key role in negotiating federal broadband investments and leads the relevant congressional subcommittee, and Matsui, the vice chair of the counterpart communications and technology subcommittee in the House.

And it could garner support from the White House. During the 2020 election, Biden’s campaign voiced support for digital equity initiatives, giving the push a prominent boost.

The proposal is also backed by a slew of consumer advocacy groups, including Public Knowledge, Common Sense and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of the new legislation. It is the Digital Equity Foundation Act.

Biden signs order for government to weigh sensitive data access in blocking foreign transactions

President Biden is signing an executive order today that will direct the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to weigh new factors, including the potential access to sensitive data about Americans, when deciding whether to block a transaction from another country, Joseph Menn reports for The Technology 202.

Senior administration officials said in a briefing that the factors would add to other criteria previously specified by Congress when it established the Treasury-led CFIUS and that the changes were meant to keep up with the changing nature of national security, the core mission of the secretive program. The order also names areas where the White House wants the country to maintain technological leadership, including microelectronics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum computing, advanced clean energy and climate adaptation technologies.

The concern over data protection follows recent warnings about TikTok and other Chinese-owned entities that collect information on users as part of their regular operations, in the same ways as U.S.-based Twitter, Meta’s Facebook and other companies. The order also directs the committee to consider cybersecurity, the national supply chain and patterns of investment in determining whether a transaction would be detrimental to American interests. The officials said they hoped the specifics would prompt more voluntary filings by U.S. targets that invite CFIUS to weigh in before transactions are consummated and become more costly to unwind.  

California law to force social media transparency could face industry opposition

The signing of the bill by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) this week could set up a battle over whether such a law violates freedom of speech, Cat Zakrzewski reports.

“The law, known as A.B. 587, requires tech companies to file semiannual reports with the state’s attorney general that publicly disclose their content moderation policies regarding hate speech, disinformation and extremism,” Cat writes. “The bill, which Newsom signed Tuesday, was introduced in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol as scrutiny grew on the tech giants’ role in fomenting extremism and violence.”

Industry coalition Chamber of Progress, whose members include Facebook parent Meta and Google, said it’s “absolutely” looking into potential court challenges, arguing that such laws raise issues with the First Amendment.

“It’s like requiring a bookstore to report to the government which books it carries, or requiring the New York Times to explain which stories it publishes,” Chamber of Progress chief executive Adam Kovacevich said.

California Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), who wrote the bill, said it was “on much stronger ground than Texas and Florida,” where tech companies have sought to block social media laws regulating how platforms police content. “Our legislation is very different, both in intent and approach, from the laws passed in conservative states,” he told The Post. “We’re just asking for more transparency,” he said, questioning why tech companies would be afraid to share such information.

European court upholds, but modestly reduces, fine against Google for competition violations

Europe’s General Court mostly upheld a European Commission decision against Google, saying the company “imposed unlawful restrictions on manufacturers of Android mobile devices and mobile network operators to consolidate the dominant position of its search engine,” Reuters’s Foo Yun Chee reports. The court reduced the fine against the company from 4.34 billion euros ($4.33 billion) to 4.125 billion euros ($4.115 billion).

Europe’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager celebrated the ruling, calling it “really good” and “really important as it backs our enforcement efforts.”

A Google spokesperson told Reuters that the company was disappointed that the court didn’t overturn the Commission decision. “Android has created more choice for everyone, not less, and supports thousands of successful businesses in Europe and around the world,” they said.

California sues Amazon, accusing it of anticompetitive behavior (Rachel Lerman and Cat Zakrzewski)

Amazon union election in Albany to begin in October (CNBC)

Tesla struggles with Elon Musk’s strict return-to-office policy (CNBC)

WhatsApp made a movie with Giannis Antetokounmpo (The Verge)

  • Nvidia, DuPont and GlobalFoundries have joined the American Semiconductor Innovation Coalition as members.
  • A House Oversight and Reform Committee panel holds a hearing on federal IT on Friday at 9 a.m.
  • Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, speaks at a Heritage Foundation event on countering foreign misinformation and disinformation while protecting civil liberties on Monday at 1 p.m.
  • A Senate Judiciary Committee panel holds a hearing on antitrust enforcement on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

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