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Antitrust

Continuing Trend of Bipartisan Hostility to Big Tech, Justice Department Begins Antitrust Review

Emily McPhie

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WASHINGTON, July 23, 2019 — Facebook, Amazon, and Apple stocks dropped on Tuesday after reports of a broad antitrust review of big tech by the U.S. Department of Justice surfaced.

The review will “consider the widespread concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online,” according to the department’s Office of Public Affairs. The inquiry may lead to more focused investigations of specific companies.

“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” said Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general of the department’s antitrust division, in a statement. “The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”

Under the direction of Attorney General William Barr, the review will just add on to the significant regulatory pressures already bearing down on big tech companies.

Antitrust claims from the Justice Department may overlap with claims from an ongoing Federal Trade Commission task force created to monitor competition in the tech sector.

The review comes at a time when big tech is under attack from all sides. At a hearing on July 16, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that “the hourglass has run out” for big tech on antitrust and privacy enforcement.

The companies need to prepare to restructure themselves as the government joins the country as a whole in radically rethinking the role of Google and other digital platforms in modern American society, Blumenthal said. “I think it has to change profoundly,” he added.

However, antitrust action is not universally agreed upon. Public Knowledge Vice President Harold Feld warned against the potential futility of this effort at a July 15 event, explaining that antitrust action is best used against specific actors who have abused their market power.

By contrast, big tech is an actual sector of the economy that includes a tremendous diversity of actors, Feld said, adding that antitrust action will take a very long time to produce any results.

Emily McPhie was Assistant Editor with Broadband Breakfast. She studies communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she is a news editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.

Antitrust

Former and Current FTC Commissioners Laud Efforts At Greater Resources For Antitrust Cases

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of FTC Commissioner Noah Philips on C-SPAN in November 2018

March 17, 2021 – A new antitrust bill by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, is receiving high praise from current and former commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission for its focus on enhancing resources required to tackle competition issues.

“I think we could use more money still,” Noah Phillips, commissioner on the FTC, said at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation conference on Tuesday. “The agencies could do more with more resources, and that goes without saying. There are hard decisions that we have to make with the limited resources that we have.”

William Kovacic, former FTC chairman, reacted to the bill by noting that the debate has effectively shifted from what agency should do the work to how they do it.

“The neglected questions of implementation are starting to receive the attention they deserve, and one of them is resources,” Kovacic said. “When I look at competition authorities around the world, there is an epidemic failure to match commitments with the means necessary to carry out the task in question.”

The FTC in the last year has brought more cases than it ever has since 2001, Phillips said.

“This is a bit of delusion that all of our countries engage in,” Kovacic said. “We have the highest aspirations, the boldest goals, but when it comes to paying for it, we don’t want to do that; we want to drive and take off the lot.”

He related antitrust enforcement’s strength to the net amount of resources that have to be increased to perform existing functions capably. “It is not simply competition,” Kovacic added. “If you benchmark the FTC resources devoted to data protection privacy, we have a decidedly inadequate allocation,” and that is not the FTC’s doing but those are legislative choices, he said.

Screenshot from ITIF event on Tuesday

For the FTC to be a genuinely full-fledged national data protection regulator for privacy, it would have to be double-to-three times the agency’s resources right now, he said.

More resources will enable the agency to carry out its mandate in a more capable way, he said. The essence of success in so many matters is maintaining continuity of staff at a high-level with high-quality.

Phillips, for his part, said part of the funding will go to hiring economists, experts and increasing salaries.

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Antitrust

House Committee Hears of Big Tech’s Alleged Anticompetitive Behavior in New Hearing

Samuel Triginelli

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Photo of House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline at the Thursday hearing

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2021 – A House committee on Thursday heard of the need for strengthened antitrust measures to stem the influence of big technology companies, which are alleged to have increased its stranglehold on data on the internet.

The committee heard of Google’s and Facebook’s overwhelming control of the digital ad market; Amazon’s alleged anticompetitive practice of demanding small businesses that sell on its platform provide its proprietary information so it can make its own products; and Apple using its position as one of two app store platforms to extract taxes from competitors like Spotify and other news apps.

This is the first in a series of hearings held by the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee to consider legislative proposals to address the rise and abuse of market power online and to modernize the antitrust laws.

On Thursday, the committee played host to antitrust experts and affected businesses for the hearing titled “Reviving Competition,” which was intended to address market power and big tech’s role as gatekeeper online.

The committee also heard about recent actions by the tech giants to silence speech online. Since early October 2020, according to the testimony, Google’s YouTube platform has been deleting numerous conservative channels; Facebook and Twitter have been shutting down pages, including former President Donald Trump’s; and Amazon kicked the controversial social media app Parler off its web hosting service.

Google and Apple blocked the app from their app stores.

Witnesses recommended the government strengthen enforcement agencies so they have more teeth and reform how merger cases are viewed.

Antitrust gatekeepers work to promote competition between powerful and smaller digital companies, and innovative connectivity competitors should be able to compete at the same level with big tech, said Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director at Public Knowledge.

That would involve creating a level playing field where larger players cannot leverage their own platform to one-up competitors, said Hal Singer, managing director of Econ One.

Sharing those concerns, Eric Gunderson, chief executive officer of Mapbox, said that American competitiveness and innovation are at risk with these giants controlling the sector. Antitrust reform needs to be focused on allowing other companies to be able to compete in a level playing field.

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Media Ownership

Pandemic Isn’t Death Knell Of Theaters, Says Lionsgate Vice Chairman

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot from the webinar

February 24, 2021 – Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns said Tuesday he thinks theaters will be packed again once the pandemic ends, speaking at a New America event on the future of entertainment.

Suggesting the pandemic will not impair traditional theaters amid the rise in streaming adoption at home, Burns said the growing portfolio of films to feature in theaters under his studio will ensure traditional movie viewing doesn’t go away.

He noted that Lionsgate is associated with about 20 Tyler Perry movies, which will attract people to theaters. He also said a new program based on the The New York Times’ telling of America’s history with slavery, called 1619, will also draw viewers back.

Burns expressed optimism in a returning moviegoing population and cited that in the past, African Americans made up 5 percent of the movie going population. African Americans also make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. But over the last few years and before the pandemic began, they have made up about 20 percent of the movie going population, he said. This trend is in line with Hispanics, he said, and it gives hope to the entire industry that not even the pandemic can unseat the traditional movie theater.

He said he also hopes the older generation is ready to head back to the theaters, especially as people, young and old, develop pandemic fatigue and especially as vaccines continue rolling out.

Burns turned away doubt about his prediction by pointing to China’s recent New Year’s holiday box office performance the previous weekend, which enjoyed record-breaking box office revenues of $1.206 billion, demonstrating that the country’s film market has recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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