In Bid for TikTok, Microsoft Flexes Its Power in Washington

Microsoft was undaunted. While initially adversarial, in early 2018 its lobbyists met with TV stations’ representatives at the National Association of Broadcasters’ Dupont Circle headquarters, hoping to find some common ground. Mr. Smith took the company’s argument to regulators. In December 2018, he visited multiple members of the Federal Communications Commission.

Many executives arrive for their meetings at the agency at the last possible minute, hoping to avoid attention. Mr. Smith instead showed up early and spent time in a waiting area schmoozing agency staff, according to two people who remembered the visit. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the visit.

Microsoft and the broadcasters reached an accord on several key points in 2019, and the F.C.C. has sought comment on some of Microsoft’s proposals, making it possible they could turn them into reality in the coming months.

“Over all, in the end, I think we got to a productive process,” said Patrick McFadden, deputy general counsel at the National Association of Broadcasters.

Despite its more subdued approach, the company still sometimes attacks competitors. Early in the race for a $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract, Microsoft joined a coalition including Oracle to oppose a technological approach widely seen as favoring Amazon. Microsoft later dropped out of the Oracle alliance, but the influence campaign helped slow the contracting process, a delay that gave Microsoft more time to improve its technology. Microsoft eventually won the contract, though the work is paused as part of Amazon’s lawsuit challenging the award.

“I’m not here to say that we’re candidates for some kind of sainthood,” Mr. Smith said. “We will stand up and take on battles.”

In July, Mr. Smith met with members of the House antitrust committee ahead of testimony from the chief executives of Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. Mr. Smith said he had spent most of his time telling them about Microsoft’s own experience facing antitrust scrutiny two decades earlier. But he concedes he spent “probably 10 percent of my time” with the committee saying the problems Microsoft had in the ’90s most closely resemble the way app stores today control how developers can reach customers, putting Apple in particular in its cross hairs.

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