“5G just got real,” Verizon chief executive Hans Vestberg said onstage, as he touted his company’s plans to double its availability in some cities and roll out to 60 new markets by the end of 2020.

But in reality, 5G remains a work in progress throughout the United States. 

Access to 5G networks is limited to a handful of U.S. cities, and in some instances, it’s currently slower than 4G speeds, my colleague Geoffrey Fowler has found through tests with multiple phones. And my colleagues note that the fastest early deployments have been concentrated in areas most Americans aren’t visiting very much since the pandemic began such as stadiums. 

“It will likely be a few more years before we see what kind of revolution 5G will bring about in the tech world,” Stan Adams, the deputy general counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in an email. 

The future of 5G hinges on a smart government allocation of a scarce resource – airwaves. 

Washington policymakers broadly agree that 5G is important especially when it comes to the United States maintaining its tech dominance and competing with China, which has aggressively embraced the next generation of wireless networks. But there are competing proposals for how the federal government could most quickly and effectively commercialize the most valuable airwaves.

Many experts say the future of 5G depends carriers having greater access to airwaves known as mid-band spectrum, which is ideal for 5G deployment because it provides both fast speeds and greater coverage. But much of that is controlled by the Pentagon, which currently uses the spectrum for radar and aviation. And the future of those airwaves is in doubt. 

Last week, the Pentagon drafted a request for proposals for a new military cellular network that would lease extra capacity to private companies, such as phone companies, as the Wall Street Journal’s Drew FitzGerald has reported. But at the same time, the Federal Communications Commission is planning to allow telecom companies to bid on licenses for them through an auction in December 2021. 

Democrats are criticizing the apparent conflict: Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) recently called the Trump administration’s spectrum policies “incoherent and erratic” in a letter seeking more information on the Pentagon request. And the cell carriers are aggressively lobbying against the military proposal. 

The release of more 5G-capable phones, such as the latest iPhone 12, could increase pressure on policymakers to act.

Samsung has been making 5G-compatible phones, but Apple’s entry to the market could make it a must-have for more American consumers. People eager to have faster download speeds may be disappointed to learn that currently, the United States trails other countries that have invested more in 5G. 

Opensignal, a network analysis firm, recently said the overall download speed experience of Americans with 5G phones was just 33 Mbps, the second-slowest in the world.

It’s also possible that the increased spotlight on 5G could make it a more important political issue. Candidates making last-minute efforts to appeal to rural voters who lack as many Internet options may also see this as a key way to make an appeal during the pandemic. 

But analysts say consumers’ 5G experiences will be very inconsistent for now. It might benefit some consumers who live in downtown corridors where Verizon is aggressively deploying 5G if they’re interested in tasks that require strong download speeds, such as mobile gaming. But upgrading to a 5G phone won’t make a huge difference for the vast majority of Americans this year. 

“If they’re in an area where they just have access to that low-band 5G, it’s not going to be so life-changing for them,” said Doug King, director of business development at RootMetrics.com, a network-analysis firm owned by IHS Markit. 

Our top tabs

Fake Twitter accounts posing as Black Trump supporters racked up more than 200,000 retweets in less than a week.

Experts say the network shows how easily malicious actors can amplify misleading narratives to the masses before Twitter is able to catch them.

It’s unclear who was behind the network. Twitter is investigating the activity, spokesman Trenton Kenney said.

“It’s asymmetrical warfare,” said Clemson University social media researcher Darren Linvill, who tracked the accounts. “They don’t have to last long. And they are so cheap to produce that you can get a lot of traction without a whole lot of work. There were some traces of Russian language on the accounts, and one previously promoted an escort service in Turkey, Linvill says. 

Twitter detected another campaign posing as Black conservatives in August, but it’s unclear whether the two are related. Russia’s Internet Research Agency posed as Black Lives Matter and other groups on Instagram and Facebook to target Black voters in 2016. “Our teams are working diligently to investigate this activity and will take action in line with the Twitter Rules if tweets are found to be in violation,” Kennedy said in a statement.

Facebook will ban ads discouraging immunization.

The move builds on Facebook’s efforts to combat health misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic. Facebook had appended labels or removed millions of misleading posts about the coronavirus and has pledged to make potentially dangerous health misinformation harder for users to find.

Facebook already banned ads with “vaccine hoaxes” identified by global health organizations, tweeted Rob Leathern, director of product management at Facebook.

The new rules will not ban ads that advocate for or against legislation and government policies around vaccines, including covid-19, potentially providing a powerful tool to the anti-vaccine movement.

Uber and Lyft tried to persuade a California judge to undo a ruling requiring them to follow state labor laws.

A California superior court first ordered the company to comply with the wage and unemployment requirements of the law in August, but the ruling was put on hold while the companies appealed, Faiz Siddiqui reports.

California residents will vote in November on a ballot initiative funded by the companies that would codify their workers as independent contractors.

Uber and Lyft have argued that the employment law, AB5, would upend their business models, requiring them to limit driver hours, raise fares and possibly exit some markets. 

But the court pressed the companies about the millions in back wages that the state of California is suing the company over.

“Are you suggesting that the specter of thousands of individual claims for back wages is something that is insignificant and something that need not be considered in balancing the appropriateness of an injunction at this point?” Justice Stuart R. Pollak asked.

Uber has argued that because it gives drivers more flexibility than Lyft, its case should be argued separately. 

Rant and rave

The digital race to 2020

Trump’s campaign is ramping up Facebook spending in the final leg of the election.

Workforce report

Amazon workers in Minnesota will strike on Prime Day for the third year in a row.

The workers are demanding the company better address coronavirus risks for workers and ease workload requirements so that they can adequately protect their health. Workers at the Shakopee warehouse also staged walkouts in October and April to protest the firings of workers they say raised safety concerns about Amazon’s handling of the coronavirus.

Amazon said earlier this month that nearly 20,000 of its employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) wrote a letter to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos yesterday urging him to provide workers with hazard pay in light of the pandemic.

Amazon worker concerns extend beyond the United States.

Amazon workers across Germany also held protests on the first day of Prime Day regarding low wages and working conditions. Amnesty International called on the company to respect worker’s rights, including the right to unionize, across its global locations. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

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Mentions

  • The Leadership Conference Education Fund has hired Bertram Lee Jr. as media and tech counsel. Lee previously worked as policy counsel at Public Knowledge. Leadership Conference also promoted Shin Inouye as managing director of communications.

Daybook

  • The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) will convene a virtual unclassified hearing entitled, “Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories, and ‘Infodemics’: Stopping the Spread Online” on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

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