House Democrats dole out R&D goodies in partisan spending bill

With help from John Hendel

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— In the House: Expect some drama this morning as the House Science Committee marks up its portion of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending and climate package.

— MT exclusive: Advocacy groups are demanding more transparency requirements for academics, after a law professor filed a brief supporting Facebook’s call for FTC Chair Lina Khan’s recusal.

— Dead zones: A new broadband map out this morning suggests that the number of people without access to broadband is much larger than the FCC estimates.

IT’S THURSDAY, SEPT. 9. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. I was working on the newsletter during my fantasy football league’s draft, so my entire team was auto-picked. Things are not looking great for me this season…

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A BUSY WEEK IN THE HOUSE — House committee leaders are hustling to mark up their portions of a massive social spending package that Democrats aim to push through without GOP support. This morning, the House Science Committee will consider how to divvy up its $45.5 billion slice to science and tech agencies for research and development, among other things. Here are the proposal’s top beneficiaries, according to draft legislation released by the committee:

The Department of Energy would get $15.6 billion, with nearly $13 billion of that going toward the Office of Science, the DOE’s basic scientific research arm. Of the $2 billion for R&D, $340 million would help expand researchers’ access to quantum computing facilities. The Commerce Department would get $13.5 billion, including $5 billion for regional innovation initiatives. And the National Science Foundation would get $11 billion, including $7.5 billion for R&D.

— Not your typical markup: The committee’s Republicans say they worry that the provisions being considered today will “make it harder to negotiate” a compromise between the Senate-passed U.S. Innovation and Competition Act and the House’s equivalent bills. Republicans plan to offer more than 30 amendments, including one related to the CHIPS Act that directs $600 million for NSF semiconductor basic research.

FIRST IN MT: ADVOCACY GROUPS DEMAND ACADEMIC TRANSPARENCY — Public interest groups today are calling on Northwestern University to institute stricter disclosure requirements for faculty after a law professor there wrote a brief supporting Facebook’s petition for FTC Chair Lina Khan to recuse herself from decisions related to the social media company.

— Context: In his FTC filing, Daniel Rodriguez, a former dean of Northwestern’s law school, agreed with Facebook’s argument that Khan’s past remarks represented a conflict of interest. Rodriguez disclosed that he was being paid hourly by law firm Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick, which is representing Facebook in its antitrust suits, for his work, but did not specify the rate or how many hours he worked.

— Pushback: The groups criticizing Rodriguez, including the American Economic Liberties Project, Fight for the Future, Fairplay and the Revolving Door Project, said they don’t oppose academics seeking compensation for their expertise, but that those activities “should be conducted in an accountable manner.” (Northwestern has disclosure requirements, but faculty are exempt if those activities do not conflict with their “institutional responsibilities” at the university. The school did not respond to a request for comment.)

“Such broad allowance gives faculty members unbridled liberty to leverage their affiliations with the University for profit while shielding themselves from scrutiny,” the groups write in a letter to Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and law school Dean Hari Osofsky.

Tech companies have been funding academic research on topics like artificial intelligence, a practice that has attracted scrutiny from ethics watchers.

AGENCY AGENDA-SETTERS — The FTC released its tentative agenda for next Wednesday’s open meeting. One big item: a vote on whether to rescind Trump-era guidelines for vertical mergers — deals involving companies that are not direct competitors, and which have typically attracted little attention. Under Khan, the FTC is stepping up its scrutiny of them.

— And at the FCC: Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel laid out eight proposed votes for the agency’s Sept. 30 meeting, which will deal with the need for resilient communications networks and what to do when electrical power fails — an especially timely issue following a nasty storm like Hurricane Ida.

NEW TODAY: VISUALIZING AMERICA’S INTERNET SHORTFALLS — Data company LightBox this morning is releasing a nationwide broadband map, which it created by connecting its reams of U.S. geographic data and a dataset that attempts to capture internet connectivity based on about 2 billion Wi-Fi access points, such as routers. According to the map, nearly 60 million people in the U.S. lack broadband access, a number far higher than estimates from the FCC and third-party consumer site BroadbandNow.

“This is not the answer, this is not the broadband map,” CEO Eric Frank told John, suggesting it’s more of a jumping-off point for analysis and identifying unserved areas. The public LightBox map shows connectivity on a census-block level, but the company can privately zoom in to look at specific addresses, as Frank demonstrated during an interview.

States are trying to figure out how best to make use of incoming broadband subsidies, Frank added, saying he hopes this tool can help officials now, before any authoritative federal map of internet coverage arrives. Local officials can then layer on other demographic information or data around enrollments in the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit subsidy program.

— The missing piece: To make the mapping more authoritative, the LightBox CEO said, policymakers will need to work directly with ISPs to receive and verify coverage data, and to fill in other gaps to map certain remote geographic areas. The LightBox tool launching today doesn’t give a detailed breakdown of what internet speeds people are experiencing, for example, but the company is working on how to integrate those numbers.

— Why LightBox? The company bid this summer to become the FCC vendor to supply the location fabric for the agency’s forthcoming official broadband maps. FCC spokesperson Paloma Perez said contracting law prevents the agency from disclosing how many bids it received, but the commission is “swiftly reviewing” them. (LightBox was also involved in putting together Georgia’s lauded and hyper-granular state-level internet map.)

— Something else to check out: The Technology Policy Institute, an industry-backed think tank, on Wednesday unveiled a beta launch of its own national broadband map.

TRIBAL NATIONS EAGER FOR BROADBAND BUCKS — Funding requests for a tribal broadband program totaled more than five times the amount of money available, according to new numbers from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The NTIA said it received more than 280 applications for the $980 million Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program after the 90-day window to apply closed last Wednesday.

The Commerce Department has established a national artificial intelligence advisory committee to advise the administration on AI issues and is seeking candidates to join the effort. … The Disinfo Defense League — a network of organizers, researchers and experts aimed at fighting disinformation in communities of color — is making its public debut. The group has more than 200 member organizations, including MediaJustice and Free Press, plus the backing of disinformation researcher Joan Donovan.

Sean Perryman will be the executive director of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Dr. N. Joyce Payne Center for Social Justice. He was previously director of social impact policy at the Internet Association. … Annie Morita is joining Koji as COO. She was most recently Apple’s business lead for the internet software and services division in greater China and was head of global interactive for DreamWorks Animation. … Victoria Dillon is now chief external affairs officer at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. She previously worked in comms at Cisco Systems and Amazon Web Services, and is a Veterans Affairs and Hill alum.

Elaine Ho is now deputy chief of staff for workforce and senior adviser for science and society at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She most recently was deputy associate administrator for NASA’s office of STEM engagement. … Andrew Magloughlin joins the Free State Foundation as a legal fellow. Ilan Wurman, an associate law professor at Arizona State University, has been appointed to the think tank’s board of academic advisers.

TikTok toxic for teens? “How TikTok Serves Up Sex and Drug Videos to Minors,” writes the WSJ, which created an army of bots to trace the workings of the platform’s algorithm.

Baby, come back: Should tech companies make workers come back to the office? AP has more.

Weighing the risks: “Money, mimicry and mind control: Big Tech slams ethics brakes on AI,” Reuters reports.

Digital goading: “Pro-Beijing operatives used social media to try promoting NYC protest,” via CyberScoop.

Calling their bluffs: “Google’s Answer To Overheated Job Market: Demanding Proof of Rival Offers,” via The Information.

Not a great look: The Justice Department is charging a former Ericsson employee for bribery in trying to win a telecom contract.

New feature alert: “Twitter ‘Communities’ feature lets people form groups to tweet about topics,” CNET reports.

Riddle me this: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says Amazon’s search algorithm is promoting books containing misinformation surrounding Covid and the vaccine. She wants the company to explain why.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected]), Leah Nylen ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), and Benjamin Din ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

SEE YOU TOMORROW!