San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo resigned from the Federal Communications Commission's Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, alleging that the committee is dealing internet service providers "a very favorable hand” of policy recommendations. "It has become abundantly clear that despite the good intentions of several participants, the industry-heavy makeup of BDAC will simply relegate the body to being a vehicle for advancing the interests of the telecommunications industry over those of the public,” said Mayor Liccardo.
Internet providers like Charter and Comcast have introduced offers of free and low-cost internet with great fanfare in the last several weeks. The companies have said they want to help connect poor Americans during a pandemic that has shifted much of life online. Schools and community organizations have aggressively promoted the offers. Scores of customers have tried to sign up. But people signing up for the programs have encountered unexpected difficulties and roadblocks, according to interviews with people who have tried to sign up or who have helped them.
The Senate Antitrust Subcommittee pressed top antitrust regulators to aggressively investigate the power of the country’s biggest tech companies, with some lawmakers questioning whether the officials had the will or resources to take on Silicon Valley’s richest businesses. The lawmakers pushed for assurances that the agencies would provide vigorous oversight of the companies. But the regulators — Joe Simons, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, and Makan Delrahim, the top antitrust official at the Justice Department — offered few details about their inquiries into the industry.
The backlash against giant tech companies is stressing the public institutions tasked with examining their power, as participants, observers and critics question whether regulators have the skill, will and authority to check corporate forces. The machinery of antitrust regulation will process the broader conversation about tech's role in society through the mill of American politics and law — and some wonder whether it's up to the task.
Tensions over 5G have come to a head within the Trump administration, prompting Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to convene a high-level White House meeting to hammer out policy disputes between government agencies.
A proliferation of antitrust investigations into the tech giants is offering competitors a chance to sound off on claims that their larger rivals are playing dirty. If the Department of Justice or Federal Trade Commission pursue formal investigations into Google, Facebook, Amazon or Apple, they’ll need all the evidence they can get. The companies that compete with them could provide that by the ton. But, speaking up can come at a cost to smaller companies, including angering the powerful corporate giants and signaling to investors that you might go under without government intervention.
Despite a host of concessions offered by Sprint and T-Mobile that won over Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, the fate of the deal hinges on the competition questions that reportedly continue to dog the deal at the Department of Justice. At the DOJ, deals are approved if they won't hurt competition, which is usually determined by potential impact on consumer prices. Discord between the FCC and DOJ is unusual, as the agencies usually collaborate and share information during merger reviews.
Battles over corporate power that played out over the course of the 20th century may provide the best clues to how companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon might ultimately be reined in. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the moderation of malicious content online could be overseen by an industry standards body similar to the Hollywood system for rating movies established in the 1960s. Another potential model is the body with roots in the 1930s that polices the securities industry, according to Zuckerberg’s top US policy executive, Kevin Martin.
Advocates and experts are worried that an Amazon-owned mobile app, used by owners of its Ring security cameras to upload videos for neighbors to see, could entrench racial discrimination and violate people's privacy. The app, called Neighbors, is striking deals to partner with police departments across the country. Recently, journalists on Twitter noticed Ring was hiring an editor — prompting concerns that Amazon was stoking community fears to sell security systems, as Amazon bought Ring in 2018. People with and without Ring cameras can download the Neighbors app.
The fast-evolving internet ecosystem is changing how tech companies form alliances to lobby policy-makers in Washington. Lines are blurring or becoming more stark among different tech, media, and telecommunication companies. Telecom companies are producing content, while platform companies are exploring new services like internet connections. That means sectors are no longer staying in their lanes, and regulatory scrutiny is shifting. Comcast and AT&T, both telecom powers, are now the owners of members of the Motion Picture Association of America.