Hillicon Valley: T-Mobile, Sprint racked up Trump hotel bills | Progressives find fresh target in telecom merger | Lawmakers divided over state privacy rules | FCC warns of future probe into Sinclair allegations

Hillicon Valley: T-Mobile, Sprint racked up Trump hotel bills | Progressives find fresh target in telecom merger | Lawmakers divided over state privacy rules | FCC warns of future probe into Sinclair allegations
© Getty Images

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

MAKING IT RAIN AT THE TRUMP INTERNATIONAL HOTEL: T-Mobile in a letter to congressional Democrats said it had spent nearly $200,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., since announcing its $26 billion merger with Sprint.

This is the first time T-Mobile has acknowledged its spending, which it said totaled $195,000 since the announcement of the merger. It represents a significant spike in spending at the Trump property.

ADVERTISEMENT

"While we understand that staying at Trump properties might be viewed positively by some and negatively by others, we are confident that the relevant agencies address the questions before them on the merits," Anthony Russo, T-Mobile USA's vice president of federal legislative affairs, wrote in the letter dated Feb. 21.

The letter was in response to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Defense: Reports detail effect of transgender military ban | Watchdog auditing 8 billion submarine program | Warren questions top general on climate change Booker calls for sweeping voting rights reforms Warren praises Ocasio-Cortez in Time 100 MORE (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOvernight Health Care: How 2020 Dems want to overhaul health care | Brooklyn parents sue over measles vaccination mandate | Measles outbreak nears record Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Dems counter portrait of discord MORE (D-Wash.).

Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns about the T-Mobile stays at the Trump hotel as the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission continue to review the multibillion-dollar merger.

"The American people deserve better than an administration that appears to be for sale to businesses eager to line the President's pockets," Warren and Jayapal said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Read more here.

 

PROGRESSIVES TAKE ON T-MOBILE: Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibHillicon Valley: Mueller report coming Thursday | YouTube adds 9/11 info to Notre Dame fire video | New details on case against Assange | Thousands sign petition to ban Trump on social media | Conservatives side with big tech in GOP fight Dems rally behind Omar as Trump escalates attacks It's time for a 'Congressional Jewish Caucus' MORE (D-Mich.) is leading a group of progressive Democrats in calling on regulators to block the proposed $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, arguing that the deal will hurt workers and the low-income consumers who rely on the two telecoms giants' affordable offerings.

Tlaib and 36 House Democrats are sending letters, which were shared in advance with The Hill, to Ajit Pai (R), the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, on Tuesday afternoon.

"The T-Mobile-Sprint merger is a gross example of corporate greed that will leave many working and vulnerable Americans with higher costs, lower wages, and less jobs," Tlaib said in a statement to The Hill. "This merger stands to have a negative impact on constituents and districts like the one I serve, and Chairman Pai and Assistant Attorney General Delrahim must hear about why this merger is bad for Americans. I have a duty to ensure that people come before profits."

A new target for Dems: The merger has generated significant opposition from some congressional Democrats, including a handful of 2020 presidential candidates, and the new push shows that the deal has become a political target for many on the left.

Among those signing the letters are Reps. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeProgressives threaten to derail major Dem spending proposal Speaker in waiting? Rapid rise of Hakeem Jeffries fuels talk Congress should look into its own taxes and travel, not just Trump's MORE (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezWarren praises Ocasio-Cortez in Time 100 Ocasio-Cortez knocks Republican over Kentucky trip: 'GOP thought they could catch us with a bluff' Ocasio-Cortez releases 'Green New Deal' short film MORE (D-N.Y.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). Axios reported last month that Tlaib had been asking her colleagues to sign the letter.

More on the letter here.

 

STATE OF PLAY: Lawmakers are running into their first major challenge as they finally begin work on a data privacy bill, with Republicans and Democrats sharply divided over whether to block states from enforcing their own rules.

Both parties are optimistic about the prospect of a bipartisan agreement on the nation's first comprehensive data privacy law, but how that law will deal with tough new rules put in place by states like California is proving to be an early sticking point.

At recent hearings, the first in the current Congress on data privacy, Republicans pushed hard to override any state measures on privacy, while Democrats sought to punt on the issue. Democrats say they might consider preemption, which would allow the federal law to override state laws, but only if the final data privacy bill passed by Congress offers robust protections for customers' data.

"Republicans were on message, and their message was, 'You have to have one national bill,' " Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Bipartisan group asks DHS, ICE to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals FTC has received 26,000 complaints about Facebook privacy violations since 2012 MORE (D-Ill.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee's consumer protection subcommittee, told The Hill. "My view is that actually comes at the end. ... If we have a really strong bill that is going to adequately protect consumers throughout the country, then definitely preemption's on the table."

More here on how the divide.

 

CLOSING THE BOOK ON SINCLAIR-TRIBUNE: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday wrapped up its review of the abandoned merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media but warned that the agency could investigate allegations that Sinclair misled regulators while seeking approval for the deal.

The FCC's administrative law judge said in an order Tuesday that the "extremely serious charges" may merit a serious investigation.

"Absent a specific transaction or other proceeding to provide context for this unresolved character issue, however, conducting a hearing at this time would not be a prudent use of Commission time and resources," the judge, Jane Hinckley Halprin, wrote.

Sinclair's merger, which would have allowed it to reach nearly three-quarters of the nation's television audience, collapsed last summer after the FCC rejected the deal and referred it to the administrative judge over concerns about some of the side transactions the conservative broadcaster had proposed to bring itself in line with media ownership restrictions.

One of them was a proposed sale of the valuable WGN-TV to a man named Steven Fader for a price that was considered well below market value and with terms that would effectively allow Sinclair to remain in control of the station. Sinclair's executive chairman owned a stake in Fader's Maryland car dealership, the FCC alleged.

Read more here.

 

HMMMM: Google during its annual review of wage equality at the company found that it had been underpaying some male engineers in 2018.

The company quickly corrected course, compensating the men equally to their female peers after the wage analysis identified the discrepancy.  

"The 2018 analysis flagged one particularly large job code, Level 4 Software Engineer, for adjustments," Google wrote in a Monday blog post. "Within this job code, men were flagged for adjustments because they received less discretionary funds than women."

While men in that job category were paid equal salaries to women, the study found that managers were allotting more "discretionary funds" to female engineers.

The finding comes as Google continues to wrestle internally and externally with the issue of gender equality. The Department of Labor is still investigating claims that Google systematically underpays its female employees, which the tech giant has denied.

Read more here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: With digital privacy law, don't repeat mistakes of the past.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Outsourcing jobs.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Disputed NSA phone program is shut down, aide says. (The New York Times)

Here's what Amazon has to do to get $23 million from Arlington County. (The Washington Post)

NSA releases cybersecurity tool to the public. (Axios)

Silicon Valley and the FBI take their encryption fight behind closed doors. (Gizmodo)