Since March, we have been releasing nonpartisan insights on the progression of COVID-19—and the extraordinary human, policy, and technological resources that are being mobilized to fight it—as part of our Centering on Coronavirus issue brief series. At the end of April, we launched the Centering on Coronavirus podcast to accompany it. Each week, we release succinct, illuminating conversations with experts addressing various facets of the crisis as well as people on the frontlines dealing with its fallout. All episodes are available below, with full interview transcripts linked in episode titles.
Episode 8: Federal Aid for the States
As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, many state and local governments are in dire straits. With sales, restaurant, and hotel tax revenues collapsing, some localities have had to cut essential services and furlough frontline workers. At the same time, demand for unemployment benefits and Medicaid—which are partially funded by the states—has skyrocketed. To discuss the shortfalls state and local governments are facing and learn about potential solutions, policy analyst Julia Baumel spoke with Tracy Gordon, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center who specializes in state and local budgets.
Episode 7: The Threat to Nursing Homes
The one thing we knew from the start of the pandemic is that, the older you are, the more vulnerable you are. So how did we let our nursing homes become the epicenter of the crisis? Policy Analyst Aleksandra Srdanovic spoke with Gregg Girvan, a health care policy expert at The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, about how the high death toll among nursing home residents has had profound implications for the way we’ve managed the coronavirus pandemic.
Episode 6: The Expansion of Telehealth
Telehealth utilization has soared during the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to a temporary loosening of regulations earlier this year. It’s clear telehealth is here to stay, but what happens when the public health emergency ends? Policy analyst Olive Morris checked in with Mei Kwong from the Center for Connected Health Policy to find out.
Episode 5: The Digital Divide
Millions of families lack reliable or affordable broadband internet access, which has made them even more economically and socially vulnerable than they were before the COVID-19 crisis. To learn more about the digital divide facing us in the wake of the pandemic, as well as how we can go about solving this issue, policy analyst Zane Heflin spoke with the Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Angela Siefer.
Episode 4: Interview with Dr. Ashish Jha
Testing is a crucial component of any effective pandemic response plan, but the U.S. has faced some unique testing challenges with respect to both quantity and quality of COVID-19 tests. To learn more about the state of testing in the U.S. and our testing goals moving forward, as well as some effective strategies for meeting those goals, policy analyst Julia Baumel spoke with the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Dr. Ashish Jha.
Episode 3: Voting by Mail
To protect public health and still maintain participation in our democracy, many of us may find ourselves voting by mail this November. Julia Baumel spoke with a panel of election and voting experts to understand what voters can expect this Election Day.
Episode 2: Interview with Greg Burel
Policy analyst Aleksandra Srdanovic interviewed Greg Burel, the former Director of the Division of the Strategic National Stockpile, to discuss the important role played by our national stockpile and how prior preparation is integral to the success of our national crisis response.
Episode 1: The Gig Economy
Twenty-two million people filed for unemployment in April, and many of them are gig workers who had never before been eligible for these benefits. Policy analyst Olive Morris spoke with a member of the nontraditional workforce, a restaurant worker named Katherine from central Georgia, to discuss the financial and employment hardships brought on by coronavirus.
In March, we launched “Centering on Coronavirus,” a new policy series from The New Center. Each week, we’ll be releasing insights and analyses of how this disease is progressing, how it is impacting our health system, economy and workers, and the extraordinary human, policy, and technological resources that are being mobilized to fight it. We’re mindful that everyone is overwhelmed with information about this subject, so “Centering on Coronavirus” will be focused on two angles in particular:
- Context: Coronavirus-related news changes by the minute and the hour. We’ll aim to provide big-picture context as to how many different small developments add up to a big insight worth sharing.
- Clarity: Misinformation about the virus is rampant especially in the partisan echo chambers that have long allowed some to live in an alternate reality of their own making. “Centering on Coronavirus” will aim to provide a trusted and non-partisan source of insight and analysis.
“Vaccine Development” is focused on how the typical vaccine development process is being accelerated—technologically, bureaucratically, and financially—to meet this unprecedented challenge.
“Voting During a Pandemic” discusses the various implications of the coronavirus on our elections, how states have responded, and why a massive expansion of mail-in voting may be the only feasible way to conduct the November general election.
“The Ventilator Shortage” discusses the importance of ventilators in the fight against coronavirus, what is causing their current shortage, and how governments and the private sector are responding to it.
“The Gig Economy” discusses the importance of the gig economy and the unique challenges of nontraditional workers in the fight against coronavirus.
“Diagnostic and Antibody Testing” explores how the United States got behind the testing curve and how we might still be able to correct our course and move toward a safe reopening of our economy.
“Aiding Vulnerable Nonprofits” suggests one small tax change Congress could make in 2020 to provide an urgent cash infusion to nonprofits across America.
“Litigating a Pandemic” sheds light on where future legal action might emerge as all levels of society—from businesses, to states, to the federal government—gradually re-open in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Digital Divide” explores how we might close the gap in internet connectivity among American households at a time when affordable broadband access has never been more important for those working and learning from home.
In an effort to define where the center is on key values and policy issues, The New Center recently conducted a nationwide poll. Our findings were first reported in Bill Galston’s December 3rd, 2019 Wall Street Journal column, “Polarized America Still Has a Big Middle.” You can review the full poll findings in the presentation below.
The New Center poll was part of a Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll conducted online within the United States among a representative sample of 1,859 registered voters between November 27-29 by The Harris Poll. Results were weighted for age within gender, region, race/ethnicity, marital status, household size, income, employment, education, political party, and political ideology where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. The sampling margin of error of this poll is plus or minus 2 percentage points. For more information visit: www.harvardharrispoll.com.
Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a proposal to break up America’s largest tech companies. In a post on Medium, Senator Warren argues that Facebook, Google, and Amazon are so big – and so harmful to open competition in the tech sector – that the only solution is to break up parts of their business into smaller components.
This comes on the heels of The New Center releasing our paper late last year on how to deal with the challenges of Big Tech in which we highlighted:
- One out of every two dollars spent online goes through Amazon
- 92% of internet search is controlled by Google.
- 94% of social media users have an account with Facebook or a company owned by Facebook.
- Facebook and Google collect 63% of all online advertising revenue
We focused in our paper on urgent actions that must be taken to protect our privacy and public discourse.
The Warren proposal goes much further and actually suggests breaking up the companies in a two-step approach:
First, Warren proposes to designate companies “that offer to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties” and that make $25 billion or more in annual global revenue as ‘platform utilities’. Under Warren’s proposal, companies that are platform utilities would be barred from owning both the platform and any products that appear on it. In practice this would mean Google Search would need to be spun off from the rest of Alphabet, because Alphabet, its companies, and its services appear as search results on Google.com. Amazon would be restricted from owning both Amazon.com and its line of Amazon Basics products that are sold on Amazon.com. The idea is to prevent Google, Amazon, and others from gaining unfair competitive advantages by altering search results on their platforms to promote their own products.
Warren says platform companies both large and small would also need to meet fairness and non-discrimination standards in dealings with their users and would be prohibited from transferring or sharing their users’ data with third parties. Smaller companies would not be required to separate their platforms from the rest of their business.
Warren’s second major proposal commits to unwinding what she says are anti-competitive mergers that have allowed tech giants to buy out their rivals or quickly take over new markets. As examples, she cites Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, Amazon’s takeovers of Whole Foods and Zappos, and Google’s purchases of Waze and DoubleClick.
These mergers were initially approved because regulators believed they did not violate the longstanding ‘consumer welfare standard’ – the theory that business practices should only be considered monopolistic if they result in higher prices for consumers. Warren argues that antitrust law based on the consumer welfare standard is too narrowly defined, and doesn’t consider other ways in which a lack of competition can hurt consumers – like, say, by eliminating the incentive to deviate from intrusive data collection practices that violate consumer privacy rights.
Senator Warren is the first presidential candidate in either party to directly call for the breakup of large tech companies.
Evan Burke is a former policy analyst for The New Center, which aims to establish the intellectual basis for a viable political center in today’s America.
In a January 2019 paper, The New Center highlighted the national epidemic of robocalls, which costs Americans time and money, violates our privacy, and degrades trust in the communications and technology networks upon which we increasingly depend.
Now, Congress has finally moved to action. The new session of Congress has introduced three bills proposing anti-robocall measures: the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, and the Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone Calls (HANGUP) Act.
The New Center summarizes the features of each below:
Stopping Bad Robocalls Act
Rep. Frank Pallone, the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, re-introduced the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act in February. Among the bill’s provisions:
- The creation of an opt-out mechanism for consumers to revoke previously given consent to receive calls “at any time and in any reasonable manner, regardless of the context in which consent was provided”
- The requirement for a verified caller ID, which transfers more responsibility for identifying and blocking calls to telecom companies
- An expanded statute of limitations that would enable the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to better identify and prosecute mass robocallers
- Protections for legitimate telemarketers from unnecessary legal exposure by notifying them when a phone number has been transferred to a new user – so the new user doesn’t immediately sue when they get a robocall they haven’t signed up to receive
Senator John Thune (R–SD) re-introduced his TRACED Act in January 2019 as S.151 along with Democratic co-sponsor Senator Edward Markey (D-MA). The TRACED Act, like the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, proposes a mandatory caller ID system for calls placed over internet protocol. It also moves to expand the statute of limitations for the FCC to prosecute robocallers.
The TRACED Act also moves to dramatically increase the amount that the FCC can fine a robocaller; the maximum fine per call would jump from $1,500 to $10,000.
Finally, the TRACED Act directs the FCC, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Departments of Commerce, State, and Homeland Security to work together to improve existing anti-robocall enforcement measures and to develop new ones.
The HANGUP Act would repeal a provision of the 2015 Budget Act that allowed debt collectors to robocall or text owners of federally-backed loans without their consent.
Where to Go From Here?
The New Center’s January 2019 paper called for a fundamental shift in how robocalls are policed; shifting from today’s flawed model of relying on understaffed government agencies to police illegal robocalls after they are placed, to one that relies much more on telecom companies to proactively prevent illegal robocalls from going through in the first place. We even suggested fines for telecom companies that didn’t act with sufficient urgency to crack down on robocalls.
These three pieces of legislation don’t go quite that far, but in demanding more accountability from telecoms and stepping up the enforcement powers of agencies like the FCC and FTC, they represent a welcome step in the right direction.
These are the kind of commonsense bipartisan reforms that can create real progress toward solving a significant consumer problem. Congress should get to work turning these proposals into laws immediately.