Tech quiet on Trump’s EU barb
With help from John Hendel and Steven Overly
TECH QUIET ON TRUMP’S EU BARB — President Donald Trump has come to the defense of Google — well, sort of. Trump tweeted early Thursday that the European Union had “taken advantage of the U.S.” by slapping a $5 billion fine on one of its “great companies,” warning, “but not for long!” The remarks came a day after the European Commission imposed a record antitrust penalty on Google as it ramps up enforcement efforts. But Trump’s comments drew a muted response from the U.S. tech industry. Google didn’t respond to a request for comment on Trump’s comment, and three trade groups representing the tech giant — the Information Technology Industry Council, the Internet Association and NetChoice — had no comment.
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— A defense of Google, or an attack on Europe? Tech industry observers told MT the president’s remarks appeared to be more about his ongoing trade dispute with Europe than about taking a stand against antitrust efforts to crack down on Google. “This doesn’t mean he has any particular fondness for Google or fondness for antitrust,” said TechFreedom President Berin Szóka. “This just fits his preconceived notion that Europe is our enemy.” John Simpson, director of the Privacy Project at Consumer Watchdog, said “Trump is using the Google case to fan the fires of a completely unnecessary trade war with Europe.”
— A dash of irony: Trump’s tweet had an America First feel to it, but the situation isn’t quite so simple. “Many of the companies raising antitrust concerns against Google in Europe are also U.S. companies,” noted Simpson. Indeed, it was FairSearch, a lobby group supported at the time by Microsoft, that filed the complaint with the European Commission accusing Google’s Android of anti-competitive practices back in April 2013. And who was first lady Melania Trump meeting with just hours after Trump bashed the EU’s decision? You guessed it: Microsoft.
— All eyes on the FTC and DOJ: While Trump clearly sided with Google, it’s not clear how his top antitrust enforcement agencies — the Justice Department and the FTC — will come down on the matter. FTC Chairman Joe Simons said earlier this week that he plans to “look closely at what the EU is doing,” while cautioning that any U.S. enforcement approach is likely to look different from that of the EU. And a DOJ antitrust division spokesperson said they “look forward to analyzing the Commission’s decision carefully when it becomes available.”
— Meanwhile, on the Hill: Lawmaker reaction to the EU’s fine continues to trickle in. “The EC’s attack on Google is another strike against its credibility as a regulator,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), a staunch tech industry supporter, said in a statement. And Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents part of Silicon Valley, offered a particularly pointed non-response. “Since this matter is under appeal, I’m going to withhold commenting on the proposed five billion dollar transfer of wealth from California to Europe,” she said in an email.
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MERGE MADNESS — It has been a pivotal week for telecom mergers and acquisitions. Here’s a rundown of where we stand on a series of blockbuster deals:
— Sky’s the limit for Comcast? Comcast brought an end to its bidding war with Disney for the bulk of 21st Century Fox assets, with the company announcing it will instead focus its effort to acquire British media-telecom firm Sky. But will that take Disney out of the running for Sky? As The Wall Street Journal points out, “The rational move would be for Disney to leave Sky to Comcast, lowering the risk of its purchase of the other Fox assets and quieting the loser with a consolation prize. In a drama of outsize media egos, however, reason may not prevail.” But with the BCC now reporting that Comcast is “likely” to become the new owner of Sky, the high-stakes bidding war between the companies may soon be coming to a close.
— Sinclair-Tribune on life support: Tribune Media said Thursday, after the FCC voted to send its proposed merger with Sinclair Broadcast Group to a likely death, that it’s evaluating the implications and assessing its options. “We will be greatly disappointed if the transaction cannot be completed, but will rededicate our efforts to running our businesses and optimizing assets,” the company said. The merger agreement says either party may kill the deal if it’s not completed by Aug. 8, John reports for Pro — and the prospects now appear grim.
— Sinclair’s last stand: “Sinclair Broadcast Group’s top lawyer made a last-ditch effort to salvage his company’s $3.9 billion deal for Tribune Media, including via a phone call with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, according to a disclosure filing posted tonight,” John reports for Pro. “Sinclair General Counsel Barry Faber emailed [Pai] Tuesday afternoon, writing ‘you appear to have been unwilling to discuss this matter for the past several months.’ A call would be ‘appropriate and hopefully useful,’ Faber said. Emails confirm they spoke Tuesday night.”
— Merger critics urge Tribune to stand down: In a letter sent to Tribune Media’s board of directors, a group of public interest and advocacy group leaders urged the company to pack up shop. “We believe that the only reasonable and prudent action under your fiduciary duty as Tribune directors is to abandon the proposed sale to Sinclair Broadcast Group and focus entirely on the responsible management of your company,” wrote the group, which included Public Knowledge President Gene Kimmelman, former FCC official and Georgetown Law fellow Gigi Sohn, Institute for Public Representation Counselor Andrew Schwartzman and Sports Fans Coalition Executive Director Brian Hess.
— Sinclair rivals, rejoice! “After the Federal Communications Commission’s likely death blow to Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s $3.9 billion proposed merger with Tribune Media, there is at least one group of clear winners: rival conservative TV news outlets,” POLITICO’s Jason Schwartz reports. That would be Newsmax and Fox News.
— Federal court moves to hasten AT&T appeal: The D.C. Circuit Court approved an expedited timeline for written arguments to be filed in the government’s appeal of AT&T’s merger with Time Warner, Steven reports for Pro. Under a request from the DOJ, briefs in the case will be due by Oct. 18, with the dates for oral arguments and a decision on which judges will be assigned to the case to be set at a later date.
** A message from Intel: Artificial intelligence is the next wave of computing – and from faster drug discovery to creating safer roads, it is set to transform our lives. POLITICO Focus sat down with Intel’s Naveen Rao to find out how. https://politi.co/2utqqiY **
CONTRACTING BLOWBACK CONTINUES — The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, a Texas nonprofit group that aids migrants, has spurned a $250,000 donation from Salesforce — one of a number of tech companies facing blowback over contracts with the U.S. government. “Pledging us a small portion of the money you make from CBP contracts will not distract us from your continuing support of this agency,” Jonathan Ryan, the group’s executive director, wrote to Salesforce in an email obtained by POLITICO.