With help from Steven Overly and John Hendel
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— Bailout requests pour in: The tech world is pleading with Congress — which has yet to finalize details of its third massive coronavirus relief package — to include aid specifically for online travel platforms, e-commerce entrepreneurs, and the gig workforce that extends far beyond drivers and food delivery workers.
— Telecom on the table, too: The FCC and the telecom industry also have major stakes in the yet-to-be-determined economic stimulus plan, including in the debate over how much money should go toward addressing students’ digital “homework gap.”
— Tech’s war on COVID: Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are making fresh commitments to fight the escalating health crisis.
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BAILOUT ASKS FROM ACROSS THE TECH WORLD — The tech world extends far beyond Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google, and the gig economy MT has been covering extensively extends far beyond rideshare drivers and food delivery workers. Voices from across the industry have emerged in recent days with a plea for Congress to include their slice of the sector, or their policy needs, in coronavirus relief packages. (The latest version of the Senate GOP’s coronavirus stimulus package, which failed to clear a procedural vote Sunday, did not directly address these issues. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, declared plans for the House to introduce its own bill, but it remains “unclear what exactly will be in the final House Democratic package” and “it’s not clear how Pelosi’s plan would work,” POLITICO reports.)
Here are other tech leaders who’ve written to the Trump administration or congressional leadership, and what they’re asking for.
— Travel Technology Association: Relief for the travel industry should include online booking websites, short-term rental platforms and travel agencies. “Any measures taken to assist U.S. air carriers, hotels or cruise lines should include the independent entities that market, distribute, and support the services of those travel suppliers, many of which are suffering similar risks to their businesses, including the very real possibility of having to lay off employees,” wrote Steve Shur, president of the association, which counts Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway among its members. Read the letter.
— Etsy: Include relief for microbusinesses and the self-employed. The gig workers who sell their crafts and services on the e-commerce platform “do not qualify for many social safety net programs, including unemployment insurance, disability insurance, or paid leave,” CEO Josh Silverman wrote. “Neither will they benefit from much of the important relief the U.S. government has already promised to workers and small business owners, including low-interest rate loans, emergency leave, or expanded unemployment protection. … They lack the financial resources to weather an unexpected decline in sales.” Read the letter.
— Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Handy, et al.: Don’t overlook home services professionals like handymen, plumbers, electricians and other skilled tradespeople working for tech platforms. “The long-term viability of these home services professionals is … critical to the recovery of our economy,” ANGI Homeservices CEO Brandon Ridenour wrote, adding: “Our objective here is to ensure that our service professional network survives the pressures of the current environment.” Read the letter.
— Consumer and privacy groups: The packages should protect individuals’ privacy and sensitive personal info, including health and location data. “Individuals must retain certain fundamental rights over the data collected from them during or as a result of the crisis, and whatever increased access to personal data is allowed to companies and the government during the emergency should be removed once the emergency has passed,” wrote 13 groups including New America’s Open Technology Institute and Public Knowledge. Read the letter.
SHORT-TERM HELP FOR RENTALS — Airbnb is optimistic that the latest talks in Congress could bring financial relief for hosts on its platform, who have seen bookings plummet. The short-term rental site has lobbied lawmakers to make its hosts eligible for unemployment insurance and loans to assist small businesses, policies that lawmakers seemed to be leaning toward on Sunday, said Chris Lehane, senior vice president of policy and communications. “Congress deserves great credit for recognizing that there are new categories of workers and applying the lessons of 2008 to make sure everyday people, and not just big corporations, are in the mix,” he said.
— But before lawmakers finalize a rescue package, Airbnb wants changes to ensure they “capture all of these non-traditional earners as intended,” Lehane said. That includes making them eligible for benefits regardless of which federal tax forms they receive and file, or how they define their costs and places of business. Airbnb hosts are speaking out as well: They placed more than 48,000 calls to lawmakers over the weekend, the company estimates. “I do think it is something that members of Congress are conscious of and aware of, but now we need to see if we can actually make sure that some of this stuff actually gets into the technical language as it works its way through,” Lehane said over the weekend.
ON THE TELECOM TABLE: CONGRESS TO THE RESCUE? — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to strain the broadband world, the White House and top lawmakers are still wrangling over what legislative fixes to provide for telecom problems. As John reported Sunday afternoon for Pros, the FCC has offered lawmakers plenty of guidance, including specific asks: $200 million for its Connected Care telehealth pilot program and $50 million for a pilot aimed at helping ensure students remain connected. Pai is also seeking cash to implement recently enacted laws: $2 billion to help small U.S. carriers rip out and replace gear from Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE as well as $65 million for broadband mapping.
— But what lands in a final deal is far from clear. Republicans and Democrats are still tussling over how much money to address issues such as the digital “homework gap,” John reported. Democrats want at least $2 billion funneled straight to the FCC’s existing E-Rate subsidy program, while Republicans are favoring Pai’s pilot effort and prefer closer to $500 million (Democrats led by Sen. Ed Markey on late Sunday confirmed their preference for $2 billion in a letter expressing disappointment with GOP proposals). The latest Senate text didn’t encompass any of that but did provide a $200 million boost for the FCC in addition to $25 million for distance learning, telemedicine and broadband.
— Telecom industry interests homed in on these legislative negotiations during critical hours. NTCA, which represents rural telecom providers, wrote to Capitol Hill urging the creation of an FCC-run $5 billion “Critical Connectivity Continuity Program,” aimed at helping small providers weather the pandemic in the event customers were not able to pay bills or cover some of the special benefits those companies may offer their customers. Public Knowledge called for Congress to temporarily pay ISPs to give all Americans free basic broadband during the emergency, writing, “Don’t overthink it. Just give people free broadband.” Free Press, too, outlined a need for billions. Separately: Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) are pushing the FCC to expand eligibility for its Rural Health Care Program due to the crisis, as it previously did following Hurricane Katrina.
ICYMI: CEOS OF APPLE, TESLA, FACEBOOK WADE INTO WAR ON COVID — “Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Saturday that California is enlisting technology industry titans Elon Musk and Tim Cook in his state’s coronavirus defense,” California Playbook author Jeremy B. White reports from San Francisco, which remains under a statewide stay-at-home order. “Newsom confirmed that Musk — the founder of California-based Tesla and SpaceX — is ‘working overtime’ to produce ventilators. Musk pledged to procure 250,000 masks, Newsom said, while Apple CEO Cook committed to providing 1 million.”
— #TBT: Earlier this month, Musk tweeted to his more than 32.5 million followers: “The coronavirus panic is dumb.”
— Cook says, via Twitter on Saturday: “Our teams at Apple have been working to help source supplies for healthcare providers fighting COVID-19. We’re donating millions of masks for health professionals in the US and Europe. To every one of the heroes on the front lines, we thank you.”
— Zuck says, via Facebook on Sunday: “Health workers urgently need more protective gear. To help, Facebook donated our emergency reserve of 720,000 masks that we had bought in case the wildfires continued. We’re also working on sourcing a lot more to donate.” The company early this morning also announced new, free resources to help health authorities and U.N. health agencies use Facebook Messenger to amplify their response efforts; developers are now invited to participate in an “online hackathon” (also launched today) to build solutions that can help Messenger address the pandemic.
MEANWHILE: SUPERCOMPUTERS TO THE RESCUE — President Donald Trump announced Sunday that “operators of the country’s most powerful supercomputers are banding together to help medical researchers discover possible treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus” under the so-called COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, spearheaded by IBM, Steven reports for Pros.
— The consortium, prompted by calls from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will use computing power to more quickly and thoroughly analyze research on the spread of the virus and prospective treatments or vaccines; participants include the Energy Department, NASA and the National Science Foundation, among a range of other laboratories and universities.
PANDEMIC HITS CLOSE TO HOME — MT sends well wishes to former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who announced this weekend he’s being treated for pneumonia likely induced by the coronavirus. He’s no stranger to anyone in our world, prompting many well wishes from current officials at the FCC, industry and beyond. Now a partner at Cooley, McDowell has in recent years represented T-Mobile as it’s sought approval for its Sprint merger in addition to helping Microsoft’s broadband efforts (not to mention kept up a steady record of testifying at Capitol Hill telecom hearings). He was discharged from the hospital Sunday and is now at home in isolation.
Rob Shema, former executive vice president of ACA Connects, left the telecom organization Friday to become CEO of Com Net, an ACA Connects member company based in Ohio.
Where on earth is the FEC?: As American electioneering (town halls, campaign rallies, donor events) migrate online — a shift that began in recent years but has been accelerated by the current crisis — the Federal Election Commission has been notably MIA, Nancy Scola reports.
First Netflix, now Facebook: The social giant said it would “temporarily reduce streaming rates for videos on its platform and also on Instagram in Europe to help alleviate any potential network congestion due to thousands of Europeans working from home,” Reuters reports.
ICYMI: Netflix did the same last week, POLITICO Europe reports.
Buried in the news cycle: “Facebook employees were aware that the company was overestimating how many people advertisers could reach, according to an amended complaint filed this week in a nearly two-year-old lawsuit accusing the company of misrepresenting that data,” WSJ reports.
Food for thought: “The Dangers of Relying on Philanthropists During Pandemics,” via WIRED.
COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund grows: Verizon, joining Facebook and Google, contributed $2 million to the fund supporting response efforts by the World Health Organization.
Blog OTD: How Yelp is doing its part to take on the coronavirus, via the company blog.
Tech for good: “How Civic Technology Can Help Stop a Pandemic,” via Foreign Affairs.
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TTYL and go wash your hands.