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The Anti-Trust Movement Begins

UCOMM called for it years ago, now Congress is holding Google and Facebook accountable

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jun 12, 2019

For years, we here at UCOMM have been saying that an anti-trust movement needs to occur to regulate the internet giants like Facebook and Google. It didn’t happen before the 2016 election and outside forces like the Russians were able to abuse these companies lax regulation to influence the election. Through digital ads on Facebook and Google, they gave us the disaster that is Trump.

Now it seems that a real anti-trust movement has begun. In the story below from the Associated Press, they report on how the House of Representatives has finally begun to hold hearings and investigate whether big tech is too big. But is it too late? History has shown that when we went after big coal and big railroads that it took decades and bloodshed for progress to be made and for these evil empires to be regulated and broken up. While the potential breakup of big tech likely won’t involve bloodshed, there could be progress made and it could happen swiftly. Read more below and judge for yourself.

Tech on trial: House mulls antitrust help for news industry

Members of both parties on Tuesday suggested legislation may be necessary for the financially-struggling U.S. news industry as lawmakers began a bipartisan investigation into the market dominance of Silicon Valley companies.

At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, news media associations accused the tech companies of jeopardizing the industry’s economic survival by putting news content on their platforms without fairly compensating them.

“This is the first significant antitrust investigation undertaken by Congress in decades,” Rep.

With regulators at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission apparently pursuing antitrust investigations of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, and several state attorneys general exploring bipartisan action of their own, the tech industry finds itself in a precarious moment — with the dreaded M-word increasingly used to describe their way of doing business. Cicilline has flatly called them monopolies.

The Justice Department’s antitrust chief suggested in a speech Tuesday that he may take a broad view of harm to competition, and take into account quality factors such as the threat to privacy, not only whether a company’s dominant market position results in higher prices.

“Price effects alone do not provide a complete picture of market dynamics, especially in digital markets in which the profit-maximizing price is zero,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said, according to a transcript of his speech in Tel Aviv, Israel, provided by the department.

Politicians on the left and right have differing gripes about the tech giants. Some complain of aggressive conduct that squashes competition. Others perceive a political bias or tolerance of extremist content. Still others are upset by the industry’s harvesting of personal data.

Several Democratic presidential candidates think they have the solution: breaking up the companies on antitrust grounds. Cicilline has called that “a last resort,” but the idea has currency with both major political parties, including at the White House.

Trump noted the huge fines imposed by European regulators on the biggest tech companies.

“We are going to be looking at them differently,” he said in an interview Monday on CNBC.

“We should be doing what (the Europeans) are doing,” Trump said. “Obviously, there is something going on in terms of monopoly.”

David Cicilline, D-R.I., the subcommittee’s chairman, said at the start of the hearing. The investigation is long overdue, he said, and Congress must determine whether the antitrust laws “are equipped for the competition problems of our modern economy.”

Cicilline noted the steep layoffs in the news industry in recent years, saying the dominant position of the online platforms in the advertising market has created “an economic catastrophe for news publishers, forcing them to cut back on their investments in quality journalism.” At the same time, he said, tech platforms that are gateways to news online “have operated with virtual immunity from the antitrust laws.”

As a partial solution, Cicilline proposed legislation to establish an antitrust exemption that would allow news companies to band together to negotiate revenue rates with big tech platforms. He called it “a life support measure, not the remedy for long-term health” of the news business.

The senior Republican on the full committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, said he backs Cicilline’s proposal. Addressing the broader question of antitrust, however, he said, “Big is not necessarily bad,” adding that lawmakers need to proceed cautiously.

The head of an association that represents technology and telecom companies said the government scrutiny of successful companies is appropriate. However, an antitrust exemption for the news industry wouldn’t solve the problem, said Matt Schruer, vice president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

Before the internet, “news publishers received an exemption to deal with previous competitors like radio and TV news (and they) have not worked,” Schruer said. “The results were fewer choices for readers and less competition among news outlets.”

But David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance representing some 2,000 news organizations of all sizes and types, called an antitrust exemption “the lightest-touch option on the table.”

“There’s a real urgency in the industry. We’re at crisis point now,” Chavern said.

Stepping ahead of the criticism, Google’s vice president of news Richard Gringas said the company has “worked for many years to be a collaborative and supportive technology and advertising partner to the news industry.”

“Every month, Google News and Google Search drive over 10 billion clicks to publishers’ websites, which drive subscriptions and significant ad revenue,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

In a Capitol steeped in partisanship, inflamed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and Democrats’ intensifying probes of President Donald Trump, Congress’ new investigation of tech market power stands out. Not only is it bipartisan, but it’s also the first such review by Congress of a sector that for more than a decade has enjoyed haloed status and a light touch from federal regulators.

Click here to read more from the AP.

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