Newly minted Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (pronounced "buddah-jedge") said that antitrust law "has begun to hit its limits" with regulating Big Tech, which may need shaking up or even breaking up. He said that law "was not designed to handle some of these tech companies."
Buttigieg was participating in a marathon town hall CNN conducted Monday night with five of the Democratic candidates, a number of which have also taken aim at Big Tech, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), who has outlined her plan to break up Facebook, Amazon and Google.
"We're going to need to empower the Federal Trade Commission to be able to intervene, he said, including blocking or unwinding mergers, in cases where the government concludes the effect of a tech company's conduct is anticompetitive, "even if it can't be directly applied to pricing because you can't see it in the form of pricing because the pricing is free."
He talked about the fact that antitrust law was geared toward dealing with monopolies because they had the power to "jack up" prices, which was why the government stepped in to regulate railroads or fruit companies if they were "abusing the system."
He said that framework made a lot of sense, but not so much now when dealing with edge providers "where there is actually no price at all."
He also got to another hot-button issue, data collection, adding that the product is actually only free "on its face" given, in part, how consumer data is used by those companies.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle have suggested it is time to consider regulating edge providers, who used to pretty much get a pass inside the Beltway as the government focused on internet service providers as the potential snake in the virtuous online garden.
The FTC has already signaled it is on the job.
The Federal Trade Commission has launched a task force to monitor competition in U.S. technology markets, with the added charter of identifying potential anticompetitive conduct and taking enforcement action if necessary, and vetting tech merger reviews.
FTC chairman Joe Simons told the Hill back in October that protecting consumers from the potential anticompetitive behavior from dominant online platforms was a priority for the commission.
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.