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Antitrust

Justice Department Antitrust Division Sues Google, FCC Calls for Changes to Media Regulations, AT&T on Spectrum Sharing

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The Justice Department’s antitrust division plans to sue Google today for engaging in anticompetitive conduct to preserve monopolies in search and search advertising, senior Justice officials said today.

When officials began investigating Google last September, the case was focused on Google’s advertising. It has since expanded to include not only Google’s search capabilities, but also the extent to which Google is reinforcing their presence through the Android smartphone system, which often includes Google predownloaded on its devices, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The move has the makings of the most aggressive U.S. antitrust case against a big technology company in two decades. Almost all state attorneys general are also investigating Google separately. However, on Tuesday the Washington Post reported that only Republican state attorneys general are expected to sign on to the Justice Department lawsuit.

Last year, Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s current antitrust chief, negotiated with the FTC for jurisdiction to investigate Google, but later recused himself because of work with Google prior to joining the Justice Department.

According to news reports, Justice Department staff attorneys are skeptical of Attorney General William Barr’s efforts to rush the litigation, fearing that they might lose a hastily-constructed case.

“It cannot escape notice that this suit was hurried out on the eve of an election where the Administration has aggressively pressured tech companies to take actions in its favor,” said Computer and Communications Industry Association President Matt Schruers. “Antitrust law should be driven by consumers’ interests, not political imperatives.  We look forward to a court’s review of the facts and the evidence.”

The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee recently released a report recommending all four tech giants, including Google, face congressional action. “It’s Google’s business model that is the problem,” said Chairman David Cicilline, D., R.I. “Google evolved from a turnstile to the rest of the web to a walled garden that increasingly keeps users within its sights.”

Commissioner Brendan Carr calls for changes in FCC media regulations

FCC media ownership regulations have been frustrating efforts to promote investment in local content, said Commissioner Brendan Carr at the Free Speech America Gala on Wednesday.

He cited Powell, Wyoming, where a single laptop pumping music from the nearest big city constituted their entire broadcasting system. The next town over had entertainment programming that was attuned he needs of their local listeners.

This town wanted to invest in Powell to originate live and local programming for their underserved community, but because of FCC regulations—that are supposed to promote competition, a diversity of viewpoints, and localism—Powell is stuck with their single laptop.

Carr also praised the upgrades happening in 5G and ATSC 3.0. The latter, which is a new standard

allowing broadcasters to transmit in Internet Protocol, or IP, will transform broadcast television, including transmitting Ultra HD video and allowing content to be personalized to a household, said Carr.

The broad coverage that ATSC 3.0 has many applications such as telemedicine applications, IoT, and smart ag, as well as giving households another option for high speed downloads using the same spectrum, they used for over-the-air TV.

AT&T criticizes 12 GigaHertz spectrum sharing

Dish Network and RS Access are trying to increase the value of their licenses at the expense of their fellow incumbents by arguing that 5G and incumbent direct broadcast satellite services can share the 12 GigaHertz (GHz) band, according to an AT&T filing.

There’s been a lot of effort going toward preventing interference in the C-Band from adjacent bands, and neither Dish nor RSA have explained how to combat those issues in the 12 GHz band, which has notably more earth stations occupying it than the C-Band, said AT&T.

Jeffrey Blum, Dish executive vice president of external and legislative affairs said Dish, along with other companies and many public interest groups, sees it in the public interest to have a neutral Federal Communications Commission rule-making on 12 GHz band. It would be a missed opportunity to overlook 500 megahertz of centimeter wave spectrum.

The 12 GHz petition would come “at a cost of severe interference to the latest generation of satellite broadband networks that are a year out or less from providing full service,” according to small government interest groups, unlike their support for expanded access to spectrum for 5G.

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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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