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Justice Department Collaborating with State Attorneys General’s Antitrust Investigation of Big Tech, Says Chief



Photo of Makan Delrahim at Aspen Forum by Drew Clark

ASPEN, Colorado, August 20, 2019 – More than a dozen state attorneys general have launched an antitrust investigation of big tech giants, and they are working cooperatively with the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said Makan Delrahim, the division’s head.

“We come at this with no preconceived agenda,” said Delrahim in a Tuesday morning interview session at the Technology Policy Institute forum here.

As to the coordination between the state attorneys general and the Justice Department, “I would anticipate that it would be in a cooperative manner that benefits everyone.”

The state investigation was first reported late Monday by the Wall Street Journal. On July 22 the Justice Department announced a broad antitrust review of “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.”

Although the Justice Department’s review is not, in itself, an investigation of particular companies, a review can lead to or become an investigation, Delrahim said.

A smaller group of state representatives met last month with Justice Department officials.

In the interview session here with CNBC’s Senior National Correspondent Brian Sullivan, Delrahim declined to discuss the specifics of, or to confirm the existence of, a formal investigation of tech giants by the Justice Department.

And the tenor of his remarks was certainly not anti-technology.

“We are living at a time of incredible innovation and prosperity,” Delrahim said. “There are great efficiencies that have been brought to consumers” by these tech companies.

Still, it is “undeniable that people are asking questions about the market power of certain few companies.”

And while he said that it is not productive to lump all tech companies together, he mused: “Does Google compete with Facebook? You don’t go to Facebook to search, but from an advertising perspective, they might be [competing]. That is part of what an investigation would review.”

“Big, in and of itself, is not bad. It is big behaving badly,” he said. On that matter, he referenced the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Microsoft in the 1990s.

Delrahim also addressed the question that is increasingly discussed among antitrust experts: How can an antitrust action based on the consumer welfare standard proceed against companies, like Google and Facebook, whose consumer-facing products are free?

The answer is yes, he said. Just because the consumer doesn’t pay for the product doesn’t mean that you can’t look at antitrust effects based not just on price, but also on innovation and quality.

Referring to his speech at the University of Colorado law school at the Silicon Flatiron’s conference in February, Delrahim said that free-to-the-consumer industries like broadcast television have long been scrutinized by antirust regulators.

Delrahim also addressed two other recent telecom, media and technology industry antitrust matters: AT&T’s successful acquisition of Time Warner – over the objection of the Justice Department – and the agency’s recent approval of T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint, with conditions.

The Justice Department had been insisting upon the preservation of four national wireless carriers before approving the T-Mobile-Sprint merger, Delrahim said.

The merger was approved by the division after the two wireless companies agreed to spin off some spectrum assets to Dish Networks. The FCC issued its approval of the merger on Wednesday, although some state attorneys general plan to continue their suit to challenge.

Had the asset spinoff not been included, said Delrahim, “I would probably bring the same case against the merger.”

In the question-and-answer session in the interview, Delrahim addressed how the Justice Department enlisted Dish Network.

Divestiture would have solved “the competitive harm that we identified from the underlying merger,” but it wouldn’t have been able to “harness the very pro-competitive effects” that would have arisen with a fourth and new competitor in the marketplace, he said.

“We looked to see who could come in and step in and build the network,” an there were only real possibilities: Comcast, which he said had 10 megahertz of spectrum, and Dish Networks, with 95 megahertz.

“It has been sitting idle and not benefiting consumers. And Sprint had a good chunk [of that spectrum] that was not being used,” he said.

“The way this solution has come about will be not only very output enhancing,” but will, he said, hopefully lead to more quality and price effects.

“I was pleased that this was the solution that ultimately ensued, and hopefully that transaction will close sooner rather than later,” said Delrahim.


Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.


Panel Disagrees on Antitrust Bills’ Promotion of Competition

Panelists disagree on the effects of two antitrust bills intended to promote competition.



Photo of Adam Kovacevich of Chamber of Progress, Berin Szoka of TechFreedom, Cheyenne Hunt-Majer of Public Citizen, Sacha Haworth of Tech Oversight Project, Christine Bannan of Proton (left to right)

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2023 – In a fiery debate Thursday, panelists at Broadband Breakfast’s Big Tech and Speech Summit disagreed on the effect of bills intended to promote competition and innovation in the Big Tech platform space, particularly for search engines.  

One such innovation is new artificial intelligence technology being designed to pull everything a user searches for into a single page, said Cheyenne Hunt-Majer, big tech accountability advocate with Public Citizen. It is built to keep users on the site and will drastically change competition in the search engine space, she said, touting the advancement of two bills currently awaiting Senate vote.  

Photo of Adam Kovacevich of Chamber of Progress, Berin Szoka of TechFreedom, Cheyenne Hunt-Majer of Public Citizen, Sacha Haworth of Tech Oversight Project, Christine Bannan of Proton (left to right)

The first, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, would prohibit tech companies from self-preferencing their own products on their platforms over third-party competition. The second, the Open App Markets Act, would prevent app stores from requiring private app developers to use the app stores’ in-app payment system. 

Hunt-Majer said she believes that the bills would benefit consumers by kindling more innovation in big tech. “Perfect should not be the enemy of change,” she said, claiming that Congress must start somewhere, even if the bills are not perfect. 

“We are seeing a jump ahead in a woefully unprepared system to face these issues and the issues it is going to pose for a healthy market of competition and innovation,” said Hunt-Majer. 

It is good for consumers to be able to find other ways to search that Google isn’t currently providing, agreed Christine Bannan, U.S. public policy manager at privacy-focused email service Proton. The fundamental goal of these bills is directly at odds with big companies, which suggests its importance to curb anti-competitive behavior, she said. 

No need to rewrite or draft new laws for competition

But while Berin Szoka, president of non-profit technology organization TechFreedom, said competition concerns are valid, the Federal Trade Commission is best equipped to deal with disputes without the need to rewrite or draft new laws. Congress must legislate carefully to avoid unintended consequences that fundamentally harm businesses and no legislation has done so to date, he said. 

Both bills have broad anti-discrimination provisions which will affect Big Tech partnerships, Szoka continued. 

Not all experts believe that AI will replace search engines, however. Google has already adopted specialized search results that directly answer search queries, such as math problems, instead of resulting in several links to related webpages, said Adam Kovacevich, CEO of Chamber of Progress, a center-left tech policy coalition.  

Kovacevich said he believes that some search queries demand direct answers while others demand a wide range of sources, answers, and opinions. He predicts that there will be a market for both AI and traditional search engines like Google. 

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Key Republican: Anticompetitive Practices of Big Tech Present a Threat to Innovation

Rep. Ken Buck said tech companies’ practices are anticompetitive and threaten innovation, free speech and national security.



Screenshot of Rep. Ken Buck from the Heritage Foundation webcast

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2023 — Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., argued on Wednesday that the anticompetitive practices of large tech companies present a threat to innovation, free speech and national security — and that even Republicans who are traditionally wary of antitrust legislation should view it as a key tool for curbing Big Tech’s power.

“I’m a free market person — I apply that principle to just about everywhere — but if you don’t have a market, you can’t have a free market,” Buck said at a Heritage Foundation event. “And when Google controls 94 percent of the online searches in this country, you don’t have a free market.”

Buck said that it was the responsibility of Congress to actively shape antitrust law, rather than “leaving it up to the courts to create something over the next 30 years.”

Among the several anti-Big Tech bills that have been proposed, Buck highlighted as his priority legislation that would prevent certain companies from acting as both buyers and sellers in digital advertising markets.

The bill applies to companies that generate more than $20 billion in digital ad revenues — specifically targeting Google and Facebook — and has so far received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.

Tech companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying against proposed antitrust bills, making it politically precarious for some members of Congress to support them, Buck said. Still, he urged his colleagues to consider the harms allegedly caused by social media platforms.

“We know that Instagram recognized that there was body shaming going on, there was depression among teenage girls, there was a higher suicide rate among teenage girls, and they doubled down,” Buck said. “They didn’t just say, ‘We’ve got to deal with this issue’ — they decided they were going to start marketing to a younger group.”

More competition in the market could give teens and parents access to better alternatives, Buck said, but the power held by the largest platforms makes it nearly impossible for competitors to emerge.

Rep. Buck linked free speech issues for tech industry to antitrust

“How do you have free speech, how do you have competition in the marketplace when you’ve got four companies that are so big that they can wipe out any kind of competitor?” he asked.

Buck has long been a critic of Big Tech, and introduced legislation to ban the TikTok app from U.S. government devices more than a year before similar legislation was passed as part of the bipartisan spending bill in December. This decision had nothing to do with fear of TikTok as a competitor to U.S. companies, he said.

“TikTok is dangerous, not because of its competition in the marketplace — I think it’s healthy in that sense; if Microsoft or some company had bought it, I’d be all in favor of that kind of competition for Facebook — but the bottom line is [that] how it’s being used by an adversary is dangerous and concerning.”

Although the TikTok ban won broad Republican support, alongside a variety of proposals to target tech companies’ privacy or content moderation practices, many antitrust bills have been less popular.

Buck has been open about his struggles in convincing other Republicans to pursue antitrust action, telling The Washington Post in March that “the antitrust bills that we are currently considering will not move forward under Republican leadership, and that’s been a very clear signal that has been sent.”

And now that the House is under Republican control, several experts have predicted that antitrust legislation is unlikely to move forward any time soon.

In an op-ed published Wednesday, President Joe Biden called on members of Congress to overcome partisan disagreements and keep tech companies in check by passing digital privacy, antitrust and content moderation legislation.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, responded to Biden’s comments in a statement that agreed with the need for privacy and content moderation action but did not mention antitrust.

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‘Time is Now’ for Separate Big Tech Regulatory Agency, Public Interest Group Says

‘We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late.’



Photo of Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Public Knowledge, non-profit public interest group, further advocated Thursday support for the Digital Platform Commission Act introduced in the Senate in May that would create a new federal agency designed to regulate digital platforms on an ongoing basis.

“We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

The DPCA, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO., and Representative Peter Welch, D-VT., would, if adopted, create a new federal agency designed to “provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”

The independent body would conduct hearings, research and investigations all while promoting competition and establishing rules with appropriate penalties.

Public Knowledge primarily focuses on competition in the digital marketplace. It champions for open internet and has openly advocated for antitrust legislation that would limit Big Tech action in favor of fair competition in the digital marketspace.

Feld published a book in 2019 titled, “The Case for the Digital Platform Act: Breakups, Starfish Problems and Tech Regulation.” In it, Feld explains the need for a separate government agency to regulate digital platforms.

Digital regulation is new but has rapidly become critical to the economy, continued Feld. As such, it is necessary for the government to create a completely new agency in order to provide the proper oversight.

In the past, Congress empowered independent bodies with effective tools and expert teams when it lacked expertise to oversee complex sectors of the economy but there is no such body for digital platforms, said Feld.

“The reality is that [Congress] can’t keep up,” said Welch. This comes at a time when antitrust action continues to pile up in Congress, sparking debate across all sides of the issue.

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