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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Hundreds of allies rally for Gigi Sohn’s FCC confirmation

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Friday! I need more stories like this in my life. Send weird NBA-tech crossover anecdotes to: cristiano.lima@washpost.com.

Below: A deep dive into TikTok's rise and challenges, and top FTC officials invested in tech stocks. First:

Hundreds of allies rally for Sohn’s FCC confirmation

More than 240 industry and public interest groups are demanding Senate leaders hold a vote to confirm Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission, rallying behind a nominee that would clinch a Democratic majority at the agency as time ticks away on Congress’s calendar. 

In a letter shared exclusively with me and my colleague Cat Zakrzewski, groups called it crucial to fill out the FCC “as it begins to deliberate on upcoming critical decisions that will have profound impacts on the economy and the American people.”

“Her life’s work is the embodiment of the FCC’s mission, and we simply cannot have a less than fully functioning FCC to persist any longer,” wrote the coalition, which included the Consumer Technology Association, the Rural Wireless Association and Color Of Change.

The letter urges a Senate floor vote on Sohn’s nomination “before Congress adjourns.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to comment on timing for a potential floor vote to confirm Sohn. 

The FCC has lacked a majority and full complement of commissioners for the entirety of President Biden’s term, hamstringing its ability to carry out key Democratic agenda items like restoring the Obama-era net neutrality regulations.

The deadlock has spilled over into a crucial window for the agency, which is poised to play a major role in implementing the bipartisan infrastructure package signed into law last year that set aside billions for expanding internet access nationwide.

Sohn’s nomination has faced steadfast opposition from Senate Republicans, who criticized her support for the Obama-era net neutrality rules and cast her as a partisan. 

“In Ms. Sohn, President Biden has nominated someone who cannot fulfill part of the responsibilities of FCC commissioner, and whose record strongly suggests that she cannot be relied upon to fulfill any of her responsibilities in an impartial manner,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, said during a March floor speech.

Biden’s failure to secure a majority or full complement of commissioners at the FCC marks one of the longest delays in recent memory for a first-term president. 

The push from Sohn’s supporters follows what her allies describe as an unprecedented effort from some telecommunications and media lobbyists to block her nomination.

Comcast this year paid former Democratic Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and his firm $30,000 to lobby on the “Status of FCC nominations,” among other issues, according to a July disclosure filing. Sohn is the only pending nomination for the commission. 

The company in January also tapped a former state lawmaker who served alongside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), widely seen as a crucial swing vote on the Sohn nomination, to lobby on FCC nominations. The filing that disclosed the lobbying focus was later resubmitted and amended to scrub mention of the FCC nomination, as news outlets reported at the time. 

Comcast also retained Larry Puccio, the former top aide to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), another critical Democrat to lobby on telecommunications issues, though his disclosure filings did not mention nominations.

Preston Padden, a former top executive at Fox and Disney, said he could recall no other occasion when companies “microtargeted” specific lawmakers to oppose an FCC nominee. 

“What Comcast has done to Gigi Sohn in my experience is absolutely unprecedented,” he said.

The filings do not indicate how the groups lobbied on the nominations or other issues.

“The Daschle Group did not lobby for or against any nominations,” Veronica Pollock, vice president of Daschle’s firm, said in a statement. “We consistently track the status of nominations and share updates with clients when there is movement in Congress.”

Comcast did not return a request for comment. The company has previously declined to comment on lobbying disclosure filings. 

Time is slipping away for Democrats. If Republicans retake the Senate in next month’s elections, it would likely doom her chances of confirmation indefinitely next Congress. 

Even with the tiebreaking vote in the 50-50 Senate, Democrats have struggled to get a final floor vote for Sohn on the calendar.  

The White House reaffirmed its commitment to Sohn’s nomination in a statement Wednesday.

“We’ve been working relentlessly with Congress to get a confirmation vote,” White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton said. “The majority of the FCC hangs in the balance and we want Sohn’s talents, expertise and experience at the Commission.”

Our top tabs

TikTok’s rise brings ubiquity, issues

TikTok’s popularity and usage has exploded, shaping a new generation of media and how people see the world, Drew Harwell reports. But the company’s ownership by Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance has also made it a pariah in Washington, where U.S. regulators have debated whether to closely monitor the app or ban it altogether.

“In five years, the app, once written off as a silly dance-video fad, has become one of the most prominent, discussed, distrusted, technically sophisticated and geopolitically complicated juggernauts on the internet — a phenomenon that has secured an unrivaled grasp on culture and everyday life and intensified the conflict between the world’s biggest superpowers,” Drew writes.

TikTok executives say they’re not influenced by government agendas and want to create a fun entertainment platform. “Many TikTok creators say speculation about the app’s Chinese roots distracts from the more grounded issues they face as a result of its explosive growth,” Drew writes. “TikTok’s ability to make anyone go viral overnight, they say, has meant that the anger and pressure once endured mostly by big influencers have become facts of life for the masses.”

Top FTC officials invested in tech firms the watchdog regulates

Officials at the Federal Trade Commission were more active investors than officials at any other federal agency, with a third of its senior officials owning or trading stock in firms going through FTC reviews or investigations, the Wall Street Journal’s Brody Mullins, Rebecca Ballhaus, Chad Day, John West and Coulter Jones report. The officials invested most heavily in tech firms, with almost 25 percent of top agency officials owning or trading stock in companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Oracle.

“The stock holdings the Journal identified among FTC officials were legal because the rules contain exemptions that often permit officials to own stocks that overlap with their agencies’ work,” they write. “An investment of $15,000 or less in an individual stock, or of $50,000 or less in an industry-specific mutual fund, isn’t deemed a conflict of interest under federal regulations.” An FTC spokesman told the Journal that officials at the agency complied with the law and that the FTC has a “robust ethics program.”

Meta asks court to dismiss FTC’s attempt to halt Within acquisition

Facebook parent Meta asked a federal judge to dismiss a Federal Trade Commission complaint that sought to block its acquisition of Within, which makes popular virtual-reality games, Axios’s Ashley Gold reports. The filing comes around a week after the FTC filed an amended complaint that narrowed some of its claims against the acquisition. The FTC filed its original complaint in July.

“The FTC's attempt to fix its ill-conceived complaint still ignores the facts and the law and relies on pure speculation of a hypothetical future state,” a Meta spokesperson told Axios, arguing that there’s vibrant competition in the VR and fitness spaces.

The FTC is standing by its complaint, with an FTC spokesperson telling Axios that the commission is “confident that the district court complaint will not be dismissed and this case will be heard.”

Inside the industry

Musk investigated by U.S. authorities over deal, Twitter says (Bloomberg News)

Google built a spam backdoor for Republicans — and they aren’t using it (The Verge)

Netflix sets $7 monthly price for its ad-supported service (Associated Press)

Competition watch

Google faces EU antitrust charges over its adtech business - sources (Reuters)

Hill happenings

Peter Thiel to put more money behind Masters as McConnell group balks (Isaac Stanley-Becker)

Workforce report

Snap employee data exposed after breach at document company Elevate -letter (Reuters)

Trending

A robot testified at Britain’s House of Lords — then had a breakdown (Jennifer Hassan)

Daybook

  • The Atlantic Council hosts an event on a new transatlantic data privacy framework Monday at 10 a.m.
  • European and U.S. officials speak at a Center for a New American Security event on developing a transatlantic technology strategy on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. 
  • The Federal Trade Commission holds an event on digital advertising to children on Wednesday.
  • Government and industry officials speak at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy’s Spectrum Summit on Wednesday.
  • The Institute for Security and Technology hosts an event on the data transfer agreement on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

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