Hillicon Valley: Internet providers vow to maintain service amid coronavirus | Pentagon looks to revisit 'war cloud' decision | Gates steps down from Microsoft board

Hillicon Valley: Internet providers vow to maintain service amid coronavirus | Pentagon looks to revisit 'war cloud' decision | Gates steps down from Microsoft board
© 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, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).




PROVIDERS PLEDGE TO MAINTAIN INTERNET ACCESS: Top U.S. internet providers including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are pledging to help people maintain internet access during the coronavirus outbreak, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and companies announced on Friday.

The telecom giants are signing onto the FCC's "Keep Americans Connected Pledge," an effort to ensure those affected by the virus and potentially unable to pay their bills due to financial disruption will still have access to the internet as more and more people are asked to work from their computers and phones at home.

"As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (R) in a statement. "Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning, and--importantly--take part in the 'social distancing' that will be so critical to limiting the spread of this novel coronavirus."

The FCC said it has been engaged in conversations with the top telecom companies as well as smaller internet providers across the country, many of which signed onto the pledge.

By signing onto the pledge, the companies have agreed to not terminate service to any customers who are unable to pay their bills due to "disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic" over the next 60 days. That includes people whose workplaces have shut down due to the virus or workers who are out of a job as the country dramatically transitions into self-quarantines and away from public gatherings.

The companies have also agreed to waive any late fees and open up their Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.


The broadband industry has been under enormous pressure to take action to ensure all Americans maintain access to the internet as teleworking becomes more important than ever.

Read more on the pledge here.



PENTAGON RECONSIDERING JEDI DECISION: The Pentagon on Thursday said it hopes to reevaluate its decision to award a $10 billion cloud-computing contract to Microsoft over Amazon, court documents filed late Thursday show.

The surprising announcement is only the latest twist in a years-long saga over the lucrative contract, and it could signal a potential victory for Amazon, which is suing to halt or overhaul the contract after it was awarded to Microsoft last year.

Amazon claims the process was improperly influenced by President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE, who publicly and privately indicated that he did not want the contract to go to Amazon, which is owned by a frequent target of the president's criticism, Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosElon Musk mocks Biden for ignoring his company's historic space flight SpaceX launches first all-civilian orbit crew into space Tucker Carlson says he lies when 'I'm really cornered or something' MORE.  

In the U.S. Court of Federal Claims filings on Thursday, the Pentagon asked a federal judge for "120 days to reconsider certain aspects of the challenged agency decision." 

"DoD [the Department of Defense] does not intend to conduct discussions with offerors or to accept proposal revisions with respect to any aspect of the solicitation other than price scenario," the filing reads.

In a statement, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) spokesman celebrated the decision. "We are pleased that the DoD has acknowledged 'substantial and legitimate' issues that affected the JEDI [Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure] award decision, and that corrective action is necessary," the spokesperson said.

Read more.


BILL GATES STEPS DOWN FROM BOARD: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is stepping down from his role on the company's board of directors to focus on philanthropy, the company announced Friday.

Gates will continue on as a tech adviser for leaders at Microsoft, including CEO Satya Nadella.

The billionaire philanthropist in 2008 transitioned out of his day-to-day role at the company, and stepped down as Microsoft's board chairman in 2014.

Gates is also stepping down from the board of the holding company Berkshire Hathaway, he announced in a LinkedIn post.

"The leadership at the Berkshire companies and Microsoft has never been stronger, so the time is right to take this step," Gates wrote.

Gates's nonprofit, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focuses on fighting extreme poverty and improving global health.

Read more about his decision here.


ONE YEAR AFTER CHRISTCHURCH: Government efforts to combat online terrorism have largely stalled in the U.S., one year after footage of a white supremacist massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, went viral across the world's largest social media networks.


But freshman Rep. Max RoseMax RoseMax Rose preparing for rematch with Nicole Malliotakis: report 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage MORE (D-N.Y.), an Army veteran and the youngest man in Congress, is one of the few lawmakers to consistently press tech companies on preventing white extremists from using their platforms to recruit and radicalize young people in the U.S. and abroad. 

"I'm sick and tired of hearing, 'Social media is a problem, we've got to do something, they should do better,' " Rose told The Hill during an interview in his Washington, D.C., office. "If they do not deal with terrorism as an industry, the industry will die."

"Done!" he exclaimed, punctuating the point with his hands and raised eyebrows. As he spoke, Rose's ring, which he had been playing with, popped off his finger.

Rose, the head of the House Homeland Security counterterrorism subcommittee, over the past year has pressured Silicon Valley giants to take steps aimed at cutting off the deluge of terrorist and white supremacist content circulating online.  

He has criticized Facebook for auto-generating pages related to al Qaeda, highlighted the limitations of artificial intelligence tools to detect such content, lambasted tech executives as "technocratic elitists," and urged the industry to pour more resources into its counterterrorism efforts. 

Rose has shifted the goal posts in the U.S. for combating terrorism in the digital age, industry watchers say, as the country grappled with multiple mass shootings, often perpetrated by young white men radicalized in the darkest corners of the internet. 

"He's taken a leadership role on addressing online terrorism," said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonThompson says he hopes Jan 6. committee can complete work by 'early spring' Jan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France MORE (D-Miss.). "He's championed the conversation [and made it] broader than what it used to be." 


In the process, Rose has aggravated civil rights activists, who want him to go further, and struggled to win over Republicans, who worry counter-extremism measures will censor right-wing voices, highlighting the difficulties in tackling internet-enabled terrorism, particularly white extremism.

"It's always easy to criticize the first gladiator in the arena," said Brian Levin, the director of the nonpartisan Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Read more on Rose here.


RIDESHARE DRIVERS SUE UBER, LYFT: Rideshare drivers this week re-upped lawsuits against Uber and Lyft to gain employee classification and sick leave benefits, arguing that the spread of coronavirus means judges should act now.

Labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan filed an emergency complaint in California against each company and added to existing cases against both companies in Massachusetts on behalf of rideshare drivers. The drivers are asking for judges to issue emergency injunctions forcing Uber and Lyft to comply with each state's employment classification laws and provide paid sick leave for the drivers. 

The attorney has been denied emergency injunctions before, with courts saying that there is no pressing need for the cases to be resolved right away. Liss-Riordan now believes, however, that there is a more compelling need for an injunction: coronavirus.

"Now we have an emergency that lays bare the fact that it is a danger to the public, not only to the drivers themselves, that they are not being afforded the rights of employees," she told The Hill, arguing that the public nature of the danger from not granting sick leave means normal arbitration processes can be skipped.

Both California and Massachusetts have laws -- including the newly passed Assembly Bill 5 in California -- aimed at classifying most gig economy workers as full employees with access to benefits like a minimum wage and labor protections, including the right to organize.

Uber and Lyft have avoided classifying their drivers as employees with a combination of lawsuits and arbitration clauses, arguing that the gig economy laws do not apply to their workers.

Read more.


BILL TO PROTECT KIDS ONLINE PULLED INTO ENCRYPTION FIGHT: Senate legislation to protect children from sexual exploitation online is being dragged into a larger fight over privacy and encryption.

The bill in question, the EARN IT Act, which has bipartisan support, would create a government-backed commission to develop "best practices" for dealing with rampant child sexual abuse material online.

If tech companies do not meet the best practices adopted by Congress, they would be stripped of their legal liability shield, laid out in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, in such cases.

But critics worry that the bill is simply a vehicle to block the tech industry's efforts to implement end-to-end encryption, a feature which makes it impossible for companies or government to access private communications between devices.

They worry the legislation could give government a backdoor to encrypted devices. That concern has been amplified by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrBarr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event Virginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' MORE, vocal opponent of encryption, who would head the best practices commission under the legislation.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenA Democratic plan to wipe out independent contractors Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Want a clean energy future? Look to the tax code MORE (D-Ore.) has slammed the bill as a "Trojan horse to give Attorney General Barr and Donald Trump the power to control online speech and require government access to every aspect of Americans' lives."

But supporters of the bill are pushing back.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRep. Tim Ryan becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress Graham found Trump election fraud arguments suitable for 'third grade': Woodward book Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan MORE (R-S.C.), a bill co-sponsor, said during a hearing before his committee on Wednesday that the legislation is "not about the encryption debate, but the best business practices."

"This bill is not about ending encryption," added Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), another co-sponsor, Wednesday. "And it is also -- I'm going to be very blunt here -- not about the current attorney general, William Barr."

Read more on the fight here.


JUSTICE INVESTIGATING ZTE FOR BRIBERY: The Justice Department is investigating Chinese telecom group ZTE for bribery, NBC News reported on Friday.

The report, citing "two people briefed on the matter," found that the investigation is based on ZTE allegedly paying bribes to foreign officials to gain advantage in the world telecom market.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York, which according to NBC News is the branch of the Justice Department investigating ZTE, declined to comment on the story to The Hill. 

The new investigation comes three years after ZTE pleaded guilty to illegally shipping equipment from the U.S. to Iran, agreeing to pay a penalty of $1.19 billion in settling with the Commerce and Treasury departments for violating export controls. 

While a spokesperson for ZTE did not respond to The Hill's request for comment, the company told NBC News that "ZTE is fully committed to meeting its legal and compliance obligations."

The spokesperson added that "the top priority of the company's leadership team is making ZTE a trusted and reliable business partner in the global marketplace, and the company is proud of the enormous progress it has made. Beyond this, it would not be appropriate for ZTE to comment."

ZTE, along with separate Chinese telecom company Huawei, has come under close scrutiny over the past few years as concerns around Chinese tech groups doing business in the U.S. have increased.

Read more.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Thank you Pangzai


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The right frame of reference for 5G



Waymo drivers say they're being discouraged from canceling robotaxi rides during coronavirus outbreak (Verge / Andrew J. Hawkins)

A Mobile Voting App That's Already in Use Is Filled With Critical Flaws (Motherboard / Emanuel Maiberg, Jason Koebler, and Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai)

A tiny Amazon seller's hand sanitizer went viral because of coronavirus. Then the trouble began. (Recode / Jason Del Rey)

Tech think tank chief to step down after Trump death tweet (Politico / Cristiano Lima)