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A plan to future-proof America

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Good morning! This Thursday, it's the one year anniversary of the day the world shut down. (Wired has an oral history, if for some reason you feel like reliving things.) In the here and now, we have the opportunities for tech in the coming trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, the big hairy audacious Roblox goal, Facebook's case that it isn't a monopoly, and a perfect way to describe Ethereum.

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The Big Story

Wi-Fi for everyone!

It's Infrastructure Week! But maybe for real this time. With the stimulus bill all but wrapped, the Biden administration is working on multitrillion-dollar infrastructure legislation designed to do everything from fix bridges to promote the future of clean energy. And Jonathan Winer, the CEO of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, doesn't want to miss what he called a "once in a generation" chance to build for the future.

  • Winer and SIP are part of a new organization called the Innovative Infrastructure Initiative (I3 for short) that has a bunch of big ideas about how to spend a few billion dollars on the future. The I3 also includes Brick & Mortar Ventures, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and advisors and partners from government and academia.
  • The I3's ideas fall into four big buckets: mobility, transit and supply-chain logistics; energy; circular economy, which includes things such as recycling and water treatment; and digital, which includes broadband access, data centers and the Internet of Things.

Most of the bill's funding is going to go to fixes and repairs, Winer said. "But a pretty sizable amount of money is going to get allocated to transformative infrastructure projects," he added. "And the idea there is to do next-generation stuff."

  • We probably won't see flying cars as a result of this bill. But maybe more EV chargers? Better 5G infrastructure in rural places? Free community Wi-Fi projects? New pilot projects for clean energy creation?

Part of I3's plan is to try things that might not work. An influx of money could make cities more willing to experiment, to be the first ones to attack a problem like universal internet access or local drone delivery.

  • "The whole idea here is that [a city] becomes the sandbox where this innovation takes place," Winer said, "so you can figure out which solutions actually are scalable."

And huge infrastructure changes could grow out of small projects. One thing Winer told me over and over was that a lot of innovation is already happening in cities and towns across the country. The problem is that there's no system to support spreading and sharing that knowledge.

  • He said the most important step is "literally connecting the people." "Like, 'Hey, this is an EV charging network that's working really well.' 'This is a broadband network that's working really well.' 'Mayor X, you should be talking to Mayor Y, because Mayor Y just went through this.' I know that might sound a little bit simplistic, but it doesn't happen currently," he said.
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a good example: It turned community Wi-Fi into a municipal utility, which gave it new tools for regulation and funding. Other cities are currently trying all manner of other solutions, and they don't even know what Chattanooga has already figured out.
  • A standardized process for RFPs and RFIs could also make it easier for local governments to apply for grants and partnerships, rather than spending months just learning what the options are.

In related news: Congress voted to give $1 billion to the Technology Modernization Fund, which Protocol's Emily Birnbaum called "an unprecedented cash infusion that will go a long way toward modernizing the government's rickety technology systems." It's $8 billion less than supporters hoped for, but it'll still mean upgrades for a lot of crappy old Windows XP computers.

Regulation

Facebook: We're not a monopoly!

As the antitrust fight comes for the tech industry, Facebook is pushing back aggressively. It filed to dismiss antitrust lawsuits from the FTC and from 48 state attorneys general, saying there were no grounds to file the suits in the first place.

According to Facebook, basically everything the government alleges is either nonsense or disingenuous or disingenuous nonsense. But it makes three points in particular that will match a lot of other companies' "We're not a monopoly!" arguments:

  • That the market is the internet. The FTC tried to narrow Facebook's market to "personal social networking," but Facebook argues that it doesn't successfully explain what that market is, or who's included. If the whole internet is a Facebook competitor, it's hard to call Facebook a monopoly.
  • That there's no bad activity here. Even if Facebook is without a plausible competitor, Facebook said, where's the evidence that Facebook is using that power for bad things? Here's how the response to the states starts: "The complaint filed by the State Attorneys General does not and cannot assert that their citizens paid higher prices, that output was reduced, or that any objective measure of quality declined as a result of Facebook's challenged actions."
  • That counterfactuals don't count. Much of the case against Facebook is about how much better the world would be if it had never bought WhatsApp or Instagram, or if it wasn't such a powerful player in the ad world. Again, from the response to the states: "The only support for this speculation is a small handful of emails and messages reflecting Facebook executives' own speculation about what might happen in the future with these and many other potential rivals."

Nothing in here is likely to make the FTC say, "You're right, we're cool, carry on." But that's obviously not Facebook's goal: Facebook wants to force its opponents to explain exactly what Facebook is doing that's wrong, and prove it's a problem. Because other than those ever-damning Zuckerberg emails, that evidence has been hard to come by.

IPOs

Roblox's biggest plans

Every tech company has what I like to call its Galaxy Brain Plan: the idea of what it could be that is orders of magnitude bigger than what it is now. This is the plan that it wants investors to bet on.

  • Uber's Galaxy Brain Plan was "we'll own the autonomous future of transport," Zoom's was "we'll eventually replace the office," Airbnb's was "we'll be the entire travel industry." Every company has one.

Yesterday, Roblox executives shared their Galaxy Brain Plan, just as the company rang the bell on the New York Stock Exchange and hit the public market.

  • "We're a medium of shared experiences," CBO Craig Donato told Protocol's Janko Roettgers. "We want to provide opportunities for people to share and consume music together, share and consume video entertainment together, have more educational experiences together, even work together."
  • "We have an optimistic vision around the metaverse," CEO David Baszucki said to Bloomberg. "Just as books or as video has brought us together and helped us learn, we're optimistic that someday in schools when people are studying ancient Rome, they'll travel together to experience ancient Rome. We're also optimistic … that people will understand physical versus virtual, and they'll balance that just as they do with video and books today."
  • Baszucki also likes to talk about Roblox's "virtual economy" around the world, and the fact that Roblox is not a game but a platform. Roblox is a mobile thing, a PC thing, a console thing, a VR thing and more; Baszucki said he wants to be everywhere.

The Roblox vision boils down to this, I think: that there's going to be a complete, soup-to-nuts society built on the internet, with its own money, its own government, its own laws and culture. Roblox wants to be that society. And maybe someday we'll measure Roblox in GDP rather than market cap.

Investors love it so far. Roblox jumped 40% as soon as it hit the market, and closed at $69.50 yesterday. It's now a $38 billion company, after being valued at $4 billion just 13 months ago.

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People Are Talking

The only way to make "green tech" work is if it's also better tech, Chris Sacca said:

  • "The first Tesla buyers? Mostly well-off hippies who cared about the planet. Today's EV buyers? People who want a cheaper way to commute, don't want to constantly be going in for repairs, and who just like owning one of the world's fastest street legal cars for a fraction of what a little dick energy Maserati costs."
We need a better definition of "responsible AI," Ranking Digital Rights' Ellery Roberts Biddle said:
  • "I don't even understand what they mean when they talk about fairness. Do they think it's fair to recommend that people join extremist groups, like the ones that stormed the Capitol? If everyone gets the recommendation, does that mean it was fair?"

Vitalik Buterin gave the best analogy for Ethereum I've heard yet:

  • "Bitcoin is like a spreadsheet where everyone only controls their own five squares of the spreadsheet, but Ethereum is a spreadsheet with macros. So everyone controls their own accounts, which is their own little piece of this universe, but then these pieces of the universe can have code and they can interact with each other, according to pre-programmed rules."

Making Moves

Talend is being sold to Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm, for $2.4 billion. Thoma Bravo is becoming a big player in the data and security world.

Merrick Garland is the new U.S. attorney general. He was approved by a 70-30 vote, and will have a lot to say about everything from Big Tech to China to how the U.S. responds to cyberattacks.

Coupang is going public today, having raised $4.6 billion in its IPO. It's now valued at around $60 billion. Protocol's Hirsh Chitkara has everything you need to know about the South Korean ecommerce giant.

Apple's moving some iPhone 12 production to India, Nikkei Asia reported, the first time an iPhone will be manufactured outside China. It will reportedly be made in a Foxconn factory in Tamil Nadu.

Parler laid off its remaining iOS developers, Bloomberg reported, after Apple refused to allow it back into the App Store.

In Other News

  • EU antitrust regulators are struggling to build a case against Amazon, The Financial Times reported, due to difficulties in understanding how its algorithm works. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported on how Amazon blocks e-books it publishes from being lent out by libraries.
  • The Chinese and U.S. semiconductor industry associations are establishing a working group together. Chip company stocks soared on news of the group, which will discuss trade policy, among other things.
  • Facebook dropped plans to build an undersea cable between California and Hong Kong. The U.S. government had been pressuring the company not to build the link.
  • OVH data centers in France burned down, taking down numerous clients and permanently wiping out some of game maker Rust's data.
  • Amazon has plans for at least 28 more Amazon Fresh stores, Bloomberg reported, adding to the 11 it already has.
  • Don't miss this piece on NewNew, a startup that lets fans pay to vote on how creators live their lives. Which is possibly the most Black Mirror thing you'll read today.
  • Pakistan banned TikTok, with chief justice Qaiser Rashid Khan saying videos on the platform "are peddling vulgarity in society."
  • Russia accidentally throttled Microsoft.com when trying to slow down Twitter, it appears. It seems to have accidentally blocked any site that includes the characters "t.co," and certain Russian government domains appear to have been affected too.

One More Thing

Bad Luck Brian

NFT of the day

It's Bad Luck Brian! One of the worst yearbook photos of all time – and one of the last-decade-internet's best memes — sold for $36,559, as part of Foundation's #MEMECONOMY week that has also included The Kitty Cat Dance, Scumbag Steve and other memes that won't mean anything to anyone under 30. Up for sale today: Keyboard Cat and Grumpy Cat.

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RSVP for this event.

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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 david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

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