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Antitrust

Broadband Roundup: Judge Approves T-Mobile/Sprint Deal, New York Times on Facial Privacy, CBRS Decision Coming

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Photo of Victor Marrero courtesy Justice Resource Center

A New York federal court on Tuesday refused to block the planned $56 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, Law360 reports, rejecting a challenge by 14 state attorneys general to the deal.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero issued an order siding with the companies, and with the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, which had already approved the merger. As a result, the deal will likely be able to go forward

During the New York City trial in December, T-Mobile and Sprint had argued argued that the merger would help them to better compete against AT&T and Verizon, especially while racing to roll out 5G wireless networks.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed satisfaction with the decision. “The T-Mobile-Sprint merger will help close the digital divide and secure United States leadership in 5G, he said.  “After the merger, T-Mobile has committed to bringing 5G to 97 percent of our nation’s population within three years and 99 percent of Americans within six years.”

New York Times podcast profiles journalist’s inquiry into Clearview AI

New York Times Journalist Kashmir Hill was interviewed on the NYT’s podcast, The Daily, on Monday, February 10, 2020. Hill detailed her investigation into Clearview AI, an artificial intelligence facial recognition company that can identify people through a huge database compiled of online photos. The technology is already being used by some law enforcement.

After an extensive search for Clearview AI personnel, Hill was finally able to interview the company’s CEO, Hoan Ton-That. In the podcast, Hill details Ton-That’s light-hearted response to her privacy concerns.

Donie O’Sullivan of CNN Business reports: “Clearview AI is controversial for many reasons, but perhaps the most important is its massive database. The company claims to have scraped more than 3 billion photos from the internet, including from popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Not only that, but Clearview retains those photos in its database even after users delete them from the platforms or make their accounts private.”

“The practice has prompted the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to send Clearview cease-and-desist letters,” wrote O’Sullivan.

Follow this link to listen to The Daily podcast episode.

FCC to address the size of Priority Access License areas in CBRS auction in February

Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly announced that the Commission will vote in the February meeting on the area size of the Priority Access License areas in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum at 3.5 GigaHertz (GHz), and which will be the subject of a planned FCC auction in June 2020.

In his statement, O’Rielly said, “Having taken the lead on the issue, I’ll admit that it has been a long road to get here, but this important step represents one of the last actions the Commission needs to take to make these critical mid-band licenses available for 5G and other next-generation wireless services.

“Ultimately, this auction will provide the first new, mid-band licenses for 5G (albeit with inferior power limits), and it is expected that, given the importance of mid-band’s capacity and propagation, it will provide a spectrum foothold for those deploying these next-generation networks,” he said. “Yet, since this CBRS structure is the first of its kind to incorporate licensed and unlicensed-like opportunities, it is of interest to a wide variety of users.”

“While there are still some outstanding issues that ought to be reconsidered in this band, such as ways to reduce the protection area sizes and increasing power limits, the auction is not dependent on these being resolved at this exact moment,” said O’Rielly.

The February commission meeting will take place on February 28.

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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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