Republican pushback to the Biden tech agenda is getting personal

Biden's nominee to the FTC got called a "bomb-thrower" at a Thursday hearing, while an FCC pick faces a "rocky road."

President Joe Biden at a podium.

GOP lawmakers are growing concerned with the FTC's plans to regulate privacy and the return of the net neutrality battle at the FCC.

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Jessica Rosenworcel, currently acting chair of the Federal Communications Commission, fielded the lion's share of questions during a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Rosenworcel, who has been tapped to take over the agency officially, has already spent several years on the commission. Historically she concentrates on issues such as the so-called homework gap and broadband accessibility, which have bipartisan appeal, and so avoided most of the controversy. Republicans instead trained their fire on Alvaro Bedoya, a longtime privacy lawyer whom President Joe Biden named to the Federal Trade Commission, as GOP policymakers grow increasingly personal criticizing the commission's progressive turn under FTC chair Lina Khan.

Sen. Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, said in his introductory remarks, for instance, that Bedoya's habit of expressing "strident views on public policy matters that should be resolved through consultation and collaboration" was a concern.

"I fear that this pattern calls into question his ability to work in a collaborative manner with the other FTC commissioners on critical issues," Wicker said.

At one point, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz went farther, calling Bedoya "a left-wing activist, a provocateur, a bomb-thrower and an extremist."

Bedoya pledged to work on behalf of all Americans at the commission, citing his bipartisan work as a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, including talks with Cruz's office. The concerns of Wicker and his colleagues, who also dug into Bedoya's past tweets, however, came as some in the GOP are increasingly agitated about FTC chair Lina Khan's sprawling agenda to push back on corporate concentration and regulate Big Tech. Bedoya would likely support the moves as the FTC's third Democratic commissioner.

The FTC's current Democrats, for instance, have all but declared they want to issue rules governing data abuses, privacy and artificial intelligence. Asked about a possible rule-making related to data, Bedoya said he supported the FTC's use of its authority to regulate prevalent unfair or deceptive acts, and suggested a particular focus on sensitive data.

Federal lawmakers have mostly failed for decades to pass laws protecting data, but the FTC's efforts threaten to reignite the decades-long cycle of blowback from businesses and lawmakers, especially Republicans, who have previously viewed FTC rule-making as overreach.

Additionally, Congressional Democrats are also eyeing a dramatic increase in funding for the FTC and the creation of a bureau to take charge of privacy specifically as part of their massive social spending proposal.

Sen. Mike Lee, a leading Republican critic of Khan, asked Bedoya if there were limits on the FTC's regulatory powers, and suggested the agency should focus on enforcing the law against particular bad actors rather than issuing sectorwide rules. Bedoya responded that he would respect legal guardrails but that the agency should use the tools it has, prompting Lee to call the lack of clear yes-or-no answers "deeply concerning."

In some cases, the Republican criticism of Khan's agenda has also come from her colleagues. Commissioner Christine Wilson told a gathering of antitrust lawyers earlier this month, for instance, that Khan's philosophy, particularly her view of competition, "is likely to fail." Wilson also suggested that the commission's Democrats are preparing a "rule-making binge," flouting Congress and the courts, and taking actions that could threaten the whole FTC and do damage to the U.S. economy.

"I speak out because I am fighting for what I hold dear," Wilson said.

Glaring absence

The hearing also was notable for who wasn't there: Gigi Sohn, a net-neutrality advocate who Biden nominated to the FCC at the same time he put up Rosenworcel for the position of chair. Despite the nominations coinciding, Sohn's confirmation hearing is still pending and there are signs she faces a fight to get approval.

During a prior stint as an agency staffer, Sohn was instrumental to designing the FCC's 2015 net-neutrality order, which banned internet service providers from blocking web content, slowing it down or demanding pay for prioritizing it. While some conservatives who are fed up with Big Tech have started flirting with more progressive views on antitrust, Republican lawmakers remain nearly united in decrying the net-neutrality order as one of the more egregious examples of Democratic policy overreach in recent times.

The Republican-majority FCC infamously overrode the measure during the Trump administration, and Sohn's nomination, alongside Biden's calls for net neutrality, suggest the fight is likely to begin again — a possibility that provided a few awkward moments for Rosenworcel.

Top Republican members of the Commerce Committee have also suggested they're opposed to Sohn joining the FCC. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is close to Trump and often signals GOP positions on issues and nominees, recently called Sohn "a complete political ideologue who has disdain for conservatives."

When asked if Sohn could get any support from the conference, a Republican congressional aide told Protocol: "We anticipate a rocky road."

Because of the partisan breakdown of the current Senate, if GOP distaste for Sohn makes it impossible for her to get any Republican support, she would need all the Democrats to give her confirmation a thumbs-up. Moderates in the caucus haven't been shy about bucking some of the White House's other picks, though.

In addition, even slow wrangling of votes could threaten Biden's agenda, including the rollout of billions in funding for broadband under the new infrastructure law, some of which the FCC will oversee.

Rosenworcel must leave by year's end if she's not confirmed, and successful confirmation votes can easily come weeks or more after even friendly hearings. Without Rosenworcel and Sohn, the FCC would have a Republican majority, despite serving under a Democratic administration.

Many congressional Democrats have been openly frustrated with the White House because of Biden's delays in making his nominations.

"My only frustration with Commissioner Rosenworcel's nomination is that it was not done in March," said Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján. "This is long overdue."


Niantic is building an AR map of the world

The company’s Visual Positioning System will help developers build location-based AR games and experiences; a new social app aims to help with AR content discovery.

VPS will allow developers to build location-based AR experiences for tens of thousands of public spaces.

Image: Niantic

Pokémon Go maker Niantic has quietly been building a 3D AR map of the world. Now, the company is getting ready to share the fruits of its labor with third-party developers: Niantic announced the launch of its Lightship Visual Positioning System at its developer summit in San Francisco on Tuesday. VPS will allow developers to build location-based AR experiences for tens of thousands of public spaces, Niantic said.

Niantic also announced a new service called Campfire that adds a social discovery layer to AR, starting with Niantic’s own games. Both announcements show that Niantic wants to be much more than a game developer with just one or two hit apps (and a couple of flops). Instead, it aims to play a key role in the future of AR — and it’s relying on millions of Ingress and Pokémon Go players to help build that future.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.


Why it's time to give all your employees executive coaching

In an effort to boost retention and engagement, companies are rolling out access to executive coaching to all of their employees.

Coaching is among personalized and exclusive benefits employers chose to offer their workforce during the pandemic.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Executive coaching has long been a quiet force behind leaders in the tech industry, but that premium benefit, often only offered to the top executives, is changing. A new wave of executive coaching services are hitting the market aimed at workers who would have traditionally been excluded from access.

Tech companies know that in order to stay competitive in today’s still-hot job market, it pays to offer more personalized and exclusive benefits. Chief People Officer Annette Reavis says Envoy, a workplace tech company, offers all employees access to a broad range of opportunities. “We offer everyone an L&D credit that they can spend on outside learning, whether it's executive coaching or learning a new coding language. We do this so that people can have access to and learn skills specific to their job.”

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.


Microsoft thinks Windows developers are ready for virtual workstations

The new Microsoft Dev Box service, coupled with Azure Deployment Environments, lets developers go from code to the cloud faster than ever.

Microsoft hopes a new cloud service will address one of developers' biggest challenges.

Photo: Grant Hindsley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Microsoft hopes a new cloud service will address one of the biggest challenges that developers have raised with the technology giant over the last several years: managing developer workstations.

Microsoft Dev Box, now in private preview, creates virtual developer workstations running its Windows operating system in the cloud, allowing development teams to standardize how those fundamental tools are initialized, set up and managed.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.


Okta CEO: 'We should have done a better job' with the Lapsus$ breach

In an interview with Protocol, Okta CEO Todd McKinnon said the cybersecurity firm could’ve done a lot of things better after the Lapsus$ breach of a third-party support provider earlier this year.

From talking to hundreds of customers, “I've had a good sense of the sentiment and the frustrations,” McKinnon said.

Photo: David Paul Morris via Getty Images

Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon agrees with you: Disclosing a breach that impacts customer data should not take months.

“If that happens in January, customers can't be finding out about it in March,” McKinnon said in an interview with Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@procotol.com.

Latest Stories