August 5, 2020 — The five leaders of the Federal Trade Commission testified together before a Senate panel for the first time in nearly two years on Wednesday.
The FTC is charged with maintaining a competitive marketplace and protecting consumers’ personal information, and members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation maintained that the agency has a significant role to play in the enforcement of antitrust and data privacy legislation.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., reminded the FTC commissioners that tech conglomerates Facebook and Amazon are within their purview, arguing that last Wednesday’s historic House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing brought about a greater sense of urgency to act.
This led FTC Chairman Joseph Simons to reveal that litigation against Facebook is currently ongoing.
Referencing Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, Simons reported that “breaking up Facebook is an option that is definitely on the table.”
When Blumenthal asked Simons when the American public can expect antitrust action against these companies, Simons replied that the agency has been giving out warning letters.
Blumenthal suggested that a better course of action for the commission would be to introduce legislation on the books, rather than continuously sending warning letters, “which is like starting over every time,” he said.
Simons revealed that no investigation into Amazon has been started as of yet, when Blumenthal questioned whether he believed it would be necessary to depose Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.
The hearing was further aimed at ensuring Congress had done enough to empower the FTC to ensure the agency was able to act against big tech companies.
“We believe we need more authority,” Simons said.
Other FTC commissioners requested to be granted jurisdiction over common carriers and given the ability to impose civil penalties.
The commissioners urged members of the Senate to continue enacting data privacy and security legislation.
“The FTC stands ready to enforce a national data privacy law,” said FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter.
‘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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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