Apparently, the Biden team is vetting Jonathan Sallet — a former top lawyer under the Obama administration and architect of net neutrality rules — for a top antitrust post. One possible job would be heading the Department of Justice’s powerful Antitrust Division. Sallet’s name has been in the mix for that post for several weeks.
The Obama-era Federal Trade Commission spent 19 months investigating Google over allegations that it violated antitrust laws by favoring its own products over rivals’ in search results. The agency ultimately voted against taking action, saying changes Google made to its search algorithm gave consumers better results and therefore didn’t unfairly harm competitors. That conclusion underplays what the FTC’s staff found during the probe.
Peter Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend (IN) and President Biden’s nominee to head the Transportation Department gave a shoutout to broadband internet during his Senate Commerce nomination hearing on Jan 21, which could help elevate the issue in a Biden infrastructure push. Buttigieg will be a leading figure on infrastructure matters if confirmed. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who co-chairs the Broadband Caucus, used her questioning to probe the matter.
Adam Candeub, the acting head of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, has been named deputy associate attorney general. The political appointment does not require congressional confirmation. Candeub helped lead President Donald Trump’s crackdown against social media companies. Candeub has played a central role in carrying out Trump’s executive order targeting social media companies like Twitter and Facebook over allegations they censor conservative viewpoints.
A looming vacancy on the Federal Trade Commission has created a dilemma for the agency as it decides how to pursue its expected antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, contributing to a delay in the launch of the case.
President Donald Trump may exit the White House in January, but Republicans are rushing to put their imprint on tech policy in a variety of ways in his final weeks. These efforts could have lasting effects well into the Biden era, cementing certain legacy moves and curbing the incoming administration’s ability to execute its agenda.
Federal Trade Commissioner Rebeca Kelly Slaughter agrees with FTC Chairman Joseph Simons that political speech is outside the agency’s purview. “We are not the political speech police,” she said. Commissioner Slaughter said tech’s liability shield — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — is an “important area to consider reform,” but she rejects the idea that the law requires companies to be viewpoint neutral. Two of Slaughter’s colleagues have proposed the FTC use its unique research authority to conduct a study on targeted advertising. “I think it is a good idea,” she said.
The White House is searching for a replacement for Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons, a Republican who has publicly resisted President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on social media companies. Chairman Simons, a veteran antitrust lawyer, hasn’t announced he’s leaving the agency. He is serving a term that doesn’t end until September 2024, and he cannot legally be removed by the president except in cases of gross negligence.
The Justice Department and a coalition of state attorneys general are taking the first steps toward launching an antitrust probe of Apple, turning the iPhone-maker into the latest Silicon Valley giant to face legal jeopardy in Washington. Antitrust officials have spoken to several companies unhappy with Apple’s ironclad control of its App Store, the source of frequent griping by developers who say the company’s rules are applied inconsistently — particularly for apps that compete with Apple’s own products — and lead to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.
The White House rolled out its fiscal year 2021 funding requests, including a proposed 71 percent bump in congressional spending on the Justice Department’s antitrust division — an increase that is another indicator that the agency is serious about its pending investigations into tech giants like Google and Facebook. (It would also allow the agency to hire 87 additional staffers.) In contrast, the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission aren’t requesting any big changes in their funding or staffing.