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House Judiciary Investigating Big Tech

It took the rising tide of regulatory sentiment toward the edge to get the House Judiciary Committee, at odds over the Mueller report and the Russian investigation, onto the same page. 

The House Judiciary Committee is opening a bipartisan, "top to bottom," investigation into Big Tech and whether it has been allowed to get big anticompetitively.

The committee has announced a series of hearings in the Antitrust Subcommittee on the "rise of market power online" and is seeking information from the relevant companies.

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"A small number of dominant, unregulated platforms have extraordinary power over commerce, communication, and information online," the committee said on its Web site. "Based on investigative reporting and oversight by international policymakers and enforcers, there are concerns that these platforms have the incentive and ability to harm the competitive process."

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The investigation's goals will be "1) Documenting competition problems in digital markets; 2) Examining whether dominant firms are engaging in anti-competitive conduct; and 3) assessing whether existing antitrust laws, competition policies, and current enforcement levels are adequate to address these issues."

One issue that has been raised on and off the Hill is whether some of the biggest edge players have been allowed to buy themselves up to an anticompetitive size through transactions that, individually, are not large enough to raise antitrust flags, and whether the lack of a price issue with the free-to-consumers services have allowed them to grow under the radar--free save for the price of consumer's personal data.

Related: Sen. Blackburn Says Arrogant Tech Needs to Change Tune 

“The open internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online,” said Judiciary Committee chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “But there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications."

The use of the term "gatekeepers" is telling since that was the term previously reserved for ISPs, while edge providers like Facebook and Google were considered the flowers in the virtuous online garden in danger of being pruned or nipped in the bud.

“Big Tech plays a huge role in our economy and our world,” said ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.). “As tech has expanded its market share, more and more questions have arisen about whether the market remains competitive. Our bipartisan look at competition in the digital markets gives us the chance to answer these questions and, if necessary, to take action.

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.