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Antitrust

Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Vows to Hold Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Other Tech Executives to Account

David Jelke

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Screenshot of Rep. David Cicilline from the webinar

May 7, 2020 — Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., head of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, said Thursday that he will not lessen the intensity of his investigation into anticompetitive practices potentially committed by big tech.

Cicilline expressed concern about a post-recession landscape in which big tech companies “gobble up” all competitive opportunities.

“We have seen this movie before,” Cicilline said, referencing airline and banking industry consolidation in the years following the Great Recession.

Speaking on a Politico webinar, the congressman also drew parallels with current roadblocks in providing COVID-19 related healthcare, such as consolidation and infighting in the ventilator manufacturing industry.

Investors are out there “licking their chops” and being told that “there are great opportunities out there,” Cicilline said.

Cicilline also honed in on Amazon and its alleged anticompetitive practices, saying that he had received signals of “complete cooperation” from the heads of Facebook, Apple and Google but that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressed hesitation about coming to testify before the subcommittee.

Cicilline said it is “hard to imagine” that he completes his investigation without hearing from the CEOs of each major tech company.

The business practices of Amazon are “central to this investigation,” Cicilline said. “It is our hope and desire that [Bezos] comes voluntarily, though we are prepared to use compulsive processes.”

“No one is above the law,” he added.

Cicilline originally planned to have his investigation and report concluded by the end of March, but quarantine-induced obstacles pushed back the projected end date to the end of spring.

While he expressed hopes of introducing antitrust legislation before the end of the year, Cicilline admitted that its prompt passage remained an “open question.”

In light of the challenges caused by the coronavirus quarantine, Cicilline said he has explored possibilities ranging from remote hearings to meetings in physical chambers large enough to respect social distancing regulations.

“I do think we’re going to have to figure that out at some point to have actual hearings,” the congressman said.

Cicilline also isn’t bowing to pressure that he grant big tech some leeway on account of their contributions to the coronavirus pandemic, as catalogued in a Broadband Breakfast report.

“I think it’s terrific when comps behave that way,” he said, “[but] they’re two different issues.”

Even though many of the services offered by big tech are free, consumers pay for these services with “your eyeballs, your attention, your data,” Cicilline said, adding that he hoped that Joe Biden would be more aggressive in pursuing antitrust if elected.

David Jelke was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. He graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in neuroscience. Growing up in Miami, he learned to speak Spanish during a study abroad semester in Peru. He is now teaching himself French on his iPhone.

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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