Recent US Antitrust Push Is Weirdly Narrow, Pretends Telecom And Banking Don’t Exist

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The U.S. is dominated by anticompetitive giants in banking, telecom, insurance, health care, air travel, and countless other sectors. And generally, we’ve historically encouraged them by underfunding our regulators, steadily weakening antitrust enforcement, rubber stamping merger after terrible merger, and replacing competent Judges with bobble head dolls. All under the pretense that doing anything else would be disastrous, while clinging tightly to a consumer welfare standard that sometimes seemed incapable of addressing modern market, labor, and consumer harms.

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The movement to rein in big tech and shore up antitrust enforcement certainly has valid components, based on justified anger at years of dodgy business practices. But this anger has been proven to be exploitable by folks like News Corporation and AT&T. Both companies are looking to saddle their Silicon Valley competitors in online advertising with rules that don’t apply to their own businesses, while simultaneously demolishing constraints and oversight of their own sectors (see: net neutrality, the dismantling of FCC authority, or the steady erosion of media consolidation rules protecting small businesses).

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Meanwhile, many of the bills are oddly selective in what they deem to be a “dominant platform.” The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act (pdf), for example, greatly restricts what constitutes a monopolistic offender, making sure to carve out exceptions for telecom giants, Mastercard, VISA, and Walmart. The bill bans companies from owning or operating a business that “presents a clear conflict of interest,” but only if the company in question has 50 million monthly active U.S. users and a market cap of over $600 billion:

“…is owned or controlled by a person with net annual sales, or a market capitalization greater than $600,000,000,000, adjusted for inflation on the basis of the Consumer Price Index, at the time of the Commission’s or the Department of Justice’s designation under sec13 tion 4(a) or any of the two years preceding that time, or at any time in the 2 years preceding the filing of a complaint for an alleged violation of this Act.”

Again, this very specific restriction omits a lot of companies that are engaging in the same kind of anticompetitive behavior, including many that see overlap in markets dominated by technology giants (telecom). It’s also just kind of an arbitrary restriction given that what others value you at isn’t necessarily what determines whether or not you’re engaging in anticompetitive behavior. The actual, anticompetitive behavior does.

But just looking at the $600 billion valuation threshold gives a sense of just how this line-drawing happened. Under this definition (including the number of US users), it looks like the law only applies to Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google (Alphabet) and Facebook. That’s it. It seems notable that companies which are also kinda powerful and dominant, but happen to fall just somewhat beneath the threshold, include Visa, Mastercard, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Walmart, Disney… and Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

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Telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast have spent the last three or four years successfully convincing many DC policymakers that Silicon Valley giants are the only dominant giants worth worrying about. Rupert Murdoch has been playing similar reindeer games. Pretending “big tech” monopolies are the only monopolies that need immediate fixing benefits both, and exploiting legitimate public anger at big tech isn’t particularly hard right now on either side of the aisle.

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Source: Recent Antitrust Push Is Weirdly Narrow, Pretends Telecom And Banking Don’t Exist | Techdirt

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