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Antitrust

Broadband Roundup: Everyone (Almost) Gangs Up on Google, Muni Broadband Fact Sheet, SHLB Anchornet Conference

Drew Clark

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Photo of Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in December 2018 by Drew Clark

It seems that everyone except California and Alabama wants in on the action, whatever that action is, against Google.

Attorneys general for 48 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico on Monday announced an antitrust investigation, although not a lawsuit, against search engine giant Google.

Appearing on the steps of the Supreme Court, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton charged that Google “dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet.”

Paxton said the probe’s initial focus is online advertising. “They dominate the buyer side, the seller side, the auction side and the video side with YouTube,” he said during a Monday news conference.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a dominant player when it’s done fairly,” said Sean Reyes, the Republican attorney general of Utah. He said there is a “presumption” of innocence in such an investigation but still said there is a “pervasiveness” to complaints about Google’s business practices.

Anodyne commentary emanated from many sources, including at Public Knowledge, where Senior Policy Counsel Charlotte Slaiman said, “It is now clear that a number of states, as well as our two antitrust enforcement agencies, are taking the power of digital platforms seriously.”

“For too long, the substantial and persistent market power of these companies has gone largely unexamined.” She said that antitrust enforcement would make the platforms “more fair and more competitive.”

And yet: “antitrust is only a piece of the puzzle. This is particularly true in digital platforms, which suffer from the lock-in of network effects and other incumbency advantages, making them particularly difficult to fix through antitrust alone.”

We’ll be watching closely to see who and when someone can clearly say what the problem is with Google.

Fact sheet from Next Century Cities on municipal broadband

Next Century Cities released a new fact sheet, “The Opportunity of Municipal Broadband.” The two-page document outlines “the benefits of municipal networks,” highlighting the variety of funding methods used to build networks, including revenue bonds, loans and Tax Increment Financing.

While acknowledging that muni networks “are not a small undertaking,” the summary outlines the benefits obtained by cities from Chattanooga, Tennessee;  to Virginia Beach, Virginia; to Portland, Oregon. In the latter city, the local government “had been paying $1,310 per month per site to a private ISP to connect its schools. The district eventually switched to a publicly owned network, and was able to connect schools to a speed 40 times greater for just $616 per month per site.”

The document also highlighted the role that municipal networks play in providing economic development opportunities, in improving utility efficiency, and in helping promote local success. And it highlights at more than 11 million Americans living in states where municipal networks are restricted by state legislation.

Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition’s E-rate extensive conference

The 9th Annual SHLB AnchorNets Conference takes place in Washington on Wednesday, October 16, to Friday, October 18. The event includes more sessions on E-rate and education than any other event, with sessions on “fiber build or buy,” and whether to “do it yourself” or to “create a cost-effective bandwidth strategy with dark fiber leases.”

The conference will also feature multiple workshops on E-Rate, including cost-modelling and invoicing, a guide to rural anchor institutions, and a how-to-session on responding to Requests for Proposal for RFPs.

Broadband Breakfast is proud to serve as Media Partner sponsor of SHLB’s AnchorNets conference this year.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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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