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Antitrust

Broadband Roundup: Comcast vs. Google, Sprint’s Open 5G Network, Ransomware Rises

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Photo of by Mike Mozart used with permission

Comcast is emerging as an antitrust foe against big tech companies such as Google, according to US News and World Report.

Last month, Comcast’s video ads division FreeWheel accused Google of using privacy concerns as a pretext to limit FreeWheel’s ability to resell ads of its customers YouTube channels.

This is the first time that a major company is taking sides in the antitrust battle against the world’s largest seller of online ads. However, Comcast’s concerns have not yet prompted a full-on antitrust attack on Google, although federal and state agencies are investigating the company regarding monopolization.

“FreeWheel would embrace a solution that allowed it to continue to meaningfully serve its clients when they publish their content on YouTube, as it had for over a decade on that platform,” Comcast said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the actions to remove or degrade FreeWheel’s capabilities on YouTube fall well short of that.”

Most companies that contend Google has unfairly squeezed them out have been reluctant to say so publicly because they rely on services from Google and fear retaliation. But Comcast is one of the biggest spenders of dollars for federal and state lobbying.

The House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Department of Justice and a coalition of 50 state-level attorneys general have each asked Google for information about its ads business in recent weeks as they begin investigating potential violations of antitrust law.

Google declined to comment on Comcast’s recent actions but said it continues to cooperate with investigations.

Sprint opens its 5G network to MVNOs

Sprint has opened its 5G network to mobile virtual network operators, FierceWireless reports. The carrier currently has 5G networks in nine US cities and turned up MVNO use in Chicago in mid-September.

Sprint’s goal is to have all nine cities available for MVNOs by the end of October, according to a company spokesperson.

Sprint had already announced plans to expand its MVNO partnerships with some larger providers to include 5G. That includes Google Fi, which Sprint said in late February would be an early adopter of the carrier’s mobile 5G technology that uses 2.5 GHz spectrum and Massive MIMO radio technology.

Allovi Wireless, a Sprint MVNO, in late August said 5G mobile data would “soon be available” on its month-to-month cell phone plans.

In its August report on prepaid competition, Wave7 Research also flagged Gen Mobile, another Sprint MVNO, as one that has access to Sprint 5G, and is currently developing a 5G strategy.

“We’re really pleased to support all those [existing MVNO agreements],” said Mike Sievert, president and chief operating officer at T-Mobile. All existing MVNO agreements from both companies would be inherited after the T-Mobile-Sprint merger and carry forward through their various expiration dates, with the potential to extend.

“The massive capacity that we are creating with this new network creates the incentive for us to want to be a provider to MVNOs,” Sievert added.

Ransomware attacks hit hundreds of schools and school districts

Over 500 US schools have been hit by ransomware in the last nine months, ZDNet reported. According to cyber security firm Armor, 15 school districts, accounting for over 100 schools, have been attacked within the past two weeks.

Of these 15 ransomware incidents, Armor said that five were caused by the Ryuk ransomware, one of today’s most active ransomware strains/gangs.

Overall, Connecticut’s educational institutions were the most compromised by ransomware attacks this year. In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency this past July in response to a wave of ransomware infections that hit three school districts.

The Armor report does not go into details of what districts paid the ransom demand and which did not. However, Crowder College of Neosho, Missouri, reported receiving the highest ransom demand among all school districts, with hackers requesting a whopping $1.6 million to provide the district with means to decrypt its systems.

Another antivirus maker, Emisoft, claims that ransomware incidents have impacted the operations of 1,051 individual schools, colleges, and universities, more than double the number reported by Armor.

In response to these attacks, the Senate passed the Department of Homeland Security Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams Act. The bill would create incident response teams to help private and public entities defend against cyber-attacks, such as ransomware attacks.

Antitrust

‘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.’

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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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Antitrust

FTC Commissioner Concerned About Antitrust Impact on Already Rising Consumer Prices

Noah Phillips said Tuesday he wants the commission to think about the impact of antitrust rules on rising prices.

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Screenshot of Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2022 – Rising inflation should be a primary concern for the Federal Trade Commission when considering antitrust regulations on Big Tech, said Commissioner Noah Phillips Tuesday.

When considering laws, “the important thing is what impact it has on the consumer,” said Phillips. “We need to continue to guard like a hawk against conduct and against laws that have the effect of raising prices for consumers.”

Current record highs in the inflation rate, which means money is becoming less valuable as products become more expensive, has meant Washington must become sensitive to further price increases that could come out of such antitrust legislation, the commissioner said.

Phillips did not comment on how such movies would mean higher prices, but that signals, such as theHouse Judiciary Committee’s antitrust report two years ago, that reign in Big Tech companies and bring back enforcement of laws could mean higher prices. He raised concerns that recent policies are prohibiting competition rather than facilitating it.

This follows recent concerns that the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, currently awaiting Senate floor consideration, will inhibit America’s global competitiveness by weakening major American companies, thus impairing the American economy. That legislation would prohibit platform owners from giving preference to their products against third-party products.

This act is one of many currently under consideration at Congress, including Ending Platform Monopolies Act and Platform Competition and Opportunity Act.

Small businesses have worried that by enacting some legislation targeting Big Tech, they would be impacted because they rely on such platforms for success.

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Antitrust

Critics and Supporters Trade Views on American Innovation and Choice Online Act

American Innovation and Choice Online Act is intended to protect fair competition among businesses, but panelists differed on its impact.

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Photo of Amy Klobuchar from August 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – Experts differed on the effect that antitrust legislation targeting big tech companies allegedly engaging in discriminatory behavior would have on small businesses.

Small businesses “want Congress not to do anything that will screw up or weaken the services that they rely on for their business,” said Michael Petricone, senior vice present of the Consumer Technology Association, at a Protocol Live event on Thursday.

Petricone said that antitrust bill would encourage tech companies to relocate to other countries, harming the American economy. He said small businesses would be affected the most.

Instead, Petricone called for  a “smarter immigration policy” to allow foreign innovators access to American tech market, as well as the defeat of the antitrust legislation.

But other said that small businesses suffer from predatory behavior by big tech companies. “Companies can’t get their foot in the door when there is already self-preferencing,” said Awesta Sarkash, representative for Small Business Majority, an advocacy organization, adding that 80% of small businesses say they want antitrust laws to protect them.

Self-preferencing on online platforms is detrimental to the success of small businesses who rely on social media advertising for business, she said. The new antitrust proposals would ensure an level playing field and promote fair competition, she said.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would prohibit certain online platforms from unfairly preferencing products, limiting another business’ ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, was introduced to the Senate on May 2 and is awaiting Senate floor consideration.

The debate follows concerns raised by both democrats and republicans about America’s global competitiveness as the bill would weaken major American companies.

If passed, the bill will follow the European Union’s Digital Services Act which similarly sets accountability standards for online platforms, preventing potentially harmful content and behavior.

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