Image: Neon Brand / Protocol
April 1, 2021
Good morning! This Thursday, we have lots of April Fool's jokes for you. April Fool's! This is a dumb holiday and we will be ignoring it. In the real world, the Biden administration put out its $2 trillion infrastructure plan, Elon Musk gave $30 million to a town that didn't know it was coming, Coursera had a big IPO and Google is going to be surprisingly restrictive about remote work.
The Big Story
$550 billion to upgrade America
The Biden administration unveiled yesterday an eight-year, $2 trillion agenda for The American Jobs Plan, which the White House said "will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country's infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China."
- Most of the $2 trillion is going to straightforward infrastructure work: cleaning drinking water, fixing roads, upgrading train cars, that sort of thing. A huge portion is also dedicated to fortifying communities against climate change-related disasters.
- But included in the plan are hundreds of billions of dollars earmarked for tech-related projects over the next eight years.
Here's a rundown of where the tech money is headed:
- $180 billion for tech R&D, including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation, $40 billion for research labs around the country, and $30 billion for job creation in rural areas. $10 billion is earmarked for R&D investments at HBCUs.
- $174 billion for the electric vehicle industry, including building a network of 500,000 chargers across the U.S. and ramping up American production of EVs.
- $100 billion for broadband infrastructure, with the goal of giving 100% of Americans access to high-speed broadband. (It would also attempt to make the industry more competitive, and cheaper for customers.)
- $100 billion for supply-chain work, half of which would go to projects "to support production of critical goods" in the U.S.
Big numbers! But is this actually useful? After the plan was released, I called Jonathan Winer, the Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners co-founder who has been advocating for some of the infrastructure bill to include ambitious tech projects for the future.
- He said he's optimistic, and pointed to about $40 billion in the plan meant for "transformative projects." "They basically created an innovation box outside of the existing programs to advance really forward-thinking projects," Winer said. "I think that was really cool."
- He was also impressed with the amount of procedural thinking in the plan: "It's not just abstract, like, 'I'm gonna throw some money at the problem.' It's a point of view about how we can get inclusive and equitable broadband. We'll see what the legislation itself says, but I was incredibly impressed."
As always, there's "the things Biden wants" and "the legislation that might actually pass," and there's a good chance those things will end up far apart. But this is a big, bold, expensive first step, and companies all over the tech industry should be thinking about how they might take part. There's about to be a lot of RFPs floating around.
Anna Kramer writes: On Tuesday, Elon Musk announced on Twitter that he would give $10 million to revitalize Brownsville, a tiny city in the corner of south Texas, and another $20 million for the county public school system. It was news to the world — and also news to the mayor of Brownsville.
- "Unfortunately at this time, I am unable to give you much information as we are still not sure about any details," Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez told me. "This came as a surprise to everyone yesterday morning and we have not had a chance to speak with Mr. Musk to obtain more information."
- Brownsville sits at the edge of Cameron County, Texas, whose unincorporated land houses a massive SpaceX rocket production and launch facility. Musk and Mendez have also announced plans to build a Tesla facility in Brownsville.
- Earlier this year, Musk said that he would be incorporating a town he called Starbase in the currently unincorporated land outside Brownsville, known as Boca Chica (though it's unclear he ever moved forward seriously with that proposal).
Musk generally is pretty opaque about his philanthropy and charitable donations, but Recode estimates that he's probably given away a bit more than $100 million over the last two decades. That makes the planned $30 million a pretty big chunk of his overall philanthropy, and a clear sign he's heavily invested in this part of Texas.
- After his donation announcement, Musk (who has previously announced his own move to Texas) encouraged people to relocate to what he's already calling Starbase.
- He also claimed SpaceX would be hiring engineers, technicians and builders, and that the region will grow in population by several thousand over the next few years.
He hasn't named himself Starbase mayor yet, but I think it's only a matter of time. Or maybe he'll be Technoking there, too.
Online school for all ages
Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda thinks the future of learning is online, even after the pandemic ends. "The truth is we all will not go back to offices, we all will not go back to campuses," Maggioncalda told Protocol's Penelope Blackwell. "And so, online work and online learning — among other things — are here to stay."
Investors evidently like Coursera's vision. In the latest in a string of eye-popping IPOs, Coursera stock jumped 36% by the closing bell yesterday, to $45 a share at a market cap of around $5.1 billion. That vote of confidence may not be just about the traditional classroom, though. Coursera's success has just as much to do with re-skilling, certifications and professional education.
- The company's 2020 revenue jumped 59% compared to 2019, to $294 million. Two-thirds of that revenue came from people paying for professional and industry courses and certifications.
- Most of Coursera's students are based in India, Mexico, Brazil and China, proving Coursera's business model has continued potential for international expansion.
"With remote work, if students can learn anywhere and get jobs anywhere, then suddenly all communities will have more equal access to educational opportunities and more equal access to job opportunities," Maggioncalda said. "And I think that might be more of what the world looks like after this pandemic."
A MESSAGE FROM GODADDY
People Are Talking
Investor Ellie Cachette explained why she and a group of other investors are trying to recall San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, using a phrase I'm betting she wishes she hadn't:
- "In San Francisco, VC lives matter. We're the ones employing people, bringing business, buying properties, you know, paying property taxes. And what are we getting in return? Nothing."
On Protocol: Bring it on, DocuSign, said Notarize CEO Pat Kinsel:
- "At the end of 2019, they were saying the space wasn't important. And I think if you look at the organizations that have been winning, they've been forced to respond. We've been doing this for six years. We've been engaged in all of the regulatory conversations. There is no shortcut to building a compliant online notarization product. And there is no shortcut to serving all the industries."
President Biden called out Amazon for using "loopholes" to avoid paying federal income tax:
- "I don't want to punish them but that's just wrong."
ByteDance lawyer Prakash Shah unsuccessfully begged an Indian court to unfreeze the company's bank accounts, which were blocked for alleged tax evasion:
- "I'm completely hanged. I need some oxygen to survive. All bank accounts are frozen. I have to pay salary to the staff."
Speaking of Elon Musk, he's joining the board at Endeavor, the sports-and-talent brand that just announced it's going public.
The Army wants some HoloLenses. Microsoft will get up to $21.9 billion to make more than 120,000 headsets over the next decade. Also, the prototypes look extremely rad.
Squarespace bought Tock for $400 million, which sends a pretty strong signal about Squarespace's plans to host and digitize the restaurant business.
Hitachi is buying GlobalLogic for $9.6 billion. It said it plans to use the software developer to "advance" its IoT platform.
Micron or Western Digital might buy Kioxia for around $30 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported. Current owner Bain Capital is reportedly considering an IPO too if the deal doesn't come off.
ByteDance might list Douyin, Reuters reported, with the New York and Hong Kong stock exchanges reportedly in the running.
In Other News
- On Protocol | Policy: Tech workers want vaccine mandates. A new survey suggests more than half of tech workers would consider quitting if their bosses didn't require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine — but it's unclear if those bosses will bite.
- Google's accelerating its office reopening, with workers returning in a "limited" capacity in April. And come September, employees will have to formally apply if they want to work remotely for more than 14 days a year. Amazon, meanwhile, said it expects most employees back "by early fall."
- On Protocol: Google must tell workers they can discuss pay and working conditions, as part of a settlement of unfair labor practices claims.
- Facebook removed a Lara Trump interview with the former president. It said that the content was "posted in the voice of Donald Trump."
- TSMC said it would spend $100 billion in the next three years to grow its manufacturing capacity. As part of those efforts, it said it would suspend price cuts from next year. Meanwhile, India is reportedly offering more than $1 billion in cash to companies that build fabs in the country.
- Arizona's HB2005 looks dead for now. The bill, which would have forced Apple and Google to allow alternative payment systems on third-party apps, looks like it won't get a vote before the end of the year — and tech lobbyists seem to have played a part in that.
- Robinhood's ditching its in-app digital confetti, with a product manager saying it "distracted from the goal of the app." The celebration and features like it had been criticized for gamifying trading.
One More Thing
NFT of the day
Of course there was going to be a "Tiger King" NFT, and of course it was going to be controversial. Joe Exotic is reportedly not a fan. But the digital trading cards are already on sale. And look, is it possible that I'm being duped by an April Fool's joke here? No, actually. Because there's no fooling on the blockchain.
A MESSAGE FROM GODADDY
Greg Goldfarb, who is VP of Products and Commerce at GoDaddy, admires the resilience and ingenuity of small business owners. "It is amazing to see entrepreneurs figuring out the new context really quickly to adapt and survive." We sat down with Goldfarb to talk about the rise in ecommerce, the impact of COVID-19, the major trends emerging this year and more.
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Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.