Analysis

Amazon in Review: What the Amazon-Whole Foods Merger Teaches Us About Antitrust

[Commentary] The Federal Trade Commission approved the merger between internet-giant Amazon and Whole Foods, the original organic grocer. You may be surprised how quickly the merger passed regulatory muster, especially given the public’s desire for strong antitrust enforcement to promote vigorous competition and equity in our economy, including our digital one. You may be wondering: Is this a case of weak enforcement? Is it proof that today’s antitrust doctrine is useless for digital-age companies? Or are critics of growing digital market concentration simply wrong to express concern? My guess is “none of the above.” Here’s why.

We hope the result in the Amazon-Whole Foods merger will neither make people give up on antitrust as an important policy tool, nor drive people to focus all their efforts on a “new antitrust” that tackles everything from quality jobs to social justice. We suggest that advocates strategically use antitrust enforcement and competition policy principles to fully protect consumers and citizens in the digital age. Finally, we strongly encourage a renewed effort to invigorate antitrust enforcement and promote new laws that create the social and economic equity we expect as a society -- and deserve.

To Tackle Robocalls From Illegally Spoofed Numbers, FCC Proposes Whopping $82M Fine

Earlier in August, in its war against illegal robocalling campaigns the Federal Communications Commission proposed another hefty fine. That is, a fine of 82 million dollars. The target of the FCC’s wrath? Mr. Philip Roesel, who wasn’t just calling a la Adele style. Instead, Roesel is accused of both illegal robocalling in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and illegal spoofing, which the FCC claims violated the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 (TCIA). For his 21 million illegal robocalls, Roesel received merely a sternly worded citation from the FCC.

Following a recent trend, the FCC’s massive $82 million fine proposed against Roesel relied primarily on the TCIA’s prohibition against the transmission of misleading or inaccurate caller ID information, commonly referred to as spoofing, “with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.” What’s unique about this proposed fine is two-fold. First, the monetary value of the fine itself is one to write home about. Second, this fine is yet another instance where the TCIA has been used by the FCC to issue a penalty against illegal robocallers. It’s a trend that the FCC started not too long ago but is likely to continue into the future for several reasons.

‘I would hope that I would never have to prove my love of this country’: Lester Holt on Harvey and President Trump

[Commentary] Three days before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, President Trump told Americans that most journalists are “bad people” who “don't like our country.” As the media covers the devastation in Houston and the surrounding area, however, even Breitbart News has begrudgingly acknowledged that the president's characterization might not be entirely fair, reporting that “journalists are helping to direct emergency crews to save stranded drivers rather than encouraging enraged mobs to riot against the police.”

In all seriousness, the response to the storm has showcased the best of elected officials, first responders, next-door neighbors and, yes, even reporters. The media's reputation is hardly the most important thing at stake in the midst of a natural disaster. But my job is to write about the press, and it is impossible not to view the work of reporters on the ground — disseminating vital information and relaying the stories of victims and heroes — against the backdrop of Trump's ceaseless campaign to undermine the media's credibility.

Financial Implications of Opelika's (AL) Municipal Broadband Network

Beginning in 2013, the city of Opelika (AL) became the state’s first “Gig City,” offering broadband Internet services to its 11,000 households over a $43 million fiber-optic network constructed and operated by the city’s electric utility, Opelika Power Services (“OPS”). How is Opelika’s system doing financially?

According to Mayor Gary Fuller, the city’s network, in its fourth year of operation in 2016, is “on pace with our five-year plan to be at break even.” As explained in this perspective, this rosy assessment is entirely at odds with the city’s own books. The city’s telecommunications service has experienced large and continuing financial losses through 2016, accumulating millions in financial losses during its four years of operation. Before “break even,” these millions in losses must be recovered and the $42 million in debt paid. In this persepective, I conduct an analysis of the OPS broadband network’s financial health using the city’s financial statements. By any meaningful financial metric, OPS’s broadband network is unlikely ever to be “profitable.”

You Sure You Know What Net Neutrality Is?

Americans clearly care about network neutrality, but to understand all that’s at stake, let’s take a closer look at what, exactly, “net neutrality” is and why it’s in the news. With so much at stake, millions of people are voicing their support for net neutrality and asking the Federal Communications Commission to keep the current rules in place. Anyone can submit comments through the FCC’s website until Aug. 30. The FCC could vote on a proposal by the end of the year, after which the battle may shift to the courts and Congress—so it is important to contact your elected officials and let them know you support net neutrality. The Trump administration’s effort to repeal net neutrality has created great uncertainty about the future of the internet, but one thing is certain: This fight won’t be over any time soon.

Trump administration overlooks critical digital policy posts

With a bundle of Senate confirmations of Trump appointees just before the August congressional recess, it’s a good time to take stock of what progress the Trump administration has made in filling the positions that shape policy in the digital arena. My Brookings paper last fall, Bridging The Internet-Cyber Gap: Digital Policy Lessons for the Next Administration, included a “digital plum book” that identified the positions from the full Plum Book (the Government Printing Office compilation of senior federal positions that is a roadmap to presidential appointments) with real impact on the constellation of issues that affect the digital economy and digital society.

To see how the Trump administration is doing, we used the digital plum book as a scorecard. There are 95 positions in the digital plum book. For 65 of these positions, the administration has at least announced a nominee, and 37 of these have been confirmed to date. This compares favorably to unfilled positions overall: the Partnership for Public Service counts 117 confirmed out of 591 positions, with another 106 pending nominations as of this writing. The digital plum book also identified 32 positions as jobs where a broad understanding of digital issues is critical to the mission. Of these, 13 have been filled and another two have been announced. For the remainder, 12 are being filled in an acting capacity, and the other five are vacant altogether.

Trump’s vicious attack on the media shows one thing clearly: He’s running scared

[Commentary] As with so much about President Donald Trump, his Phoenix rally was two contradictory things: both shocking and completely predictable. Shocking because it was the most sustained attack any president has made on the news media. (“It’s time to expose the crooked-media deceptions and challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions,” Trump ranted, as he charged that reporters invent sources and make up stories. “They are trying to take away our history and our heritage.”) And predictable because this is exactly what Trump does when he’s in trouble. He finds an enemy and punches as hard as he can.

Complaints Filed Against TV Stations for Public File Violations on Political Issue Ads

The Campaign Legal Center and Issue One, two political “watchdog” organizations, filed Federal Communications Commission complaints against two Georgia TV stations, alleging violations of the rules that govern the documents that need to be placed into a station’s public inspection file regarding political “issue advertising".

FCC rules require that stations place into their public files information concerning any advertising dealing with controversial issues of public importance including the list of the sponsoring organization’s chief executive officers or directors. Section 315 of the Communications Act requires that, when those issues are “matters of national importance,” the station must put into their public file additional information similar to the information that they include in their file for candidate ads, including the specifics of the schedule for the ads including price information and an identification of the issue to which the ad is directed. The complaints allege that, while the stations included this additional information in their public file, the form that was in the public file stated that the sponsors of the ads did not consider the issues to be ads that addressed a matter of national importance, despite the fact that they addressed candidates involved in the recent highly contested election for an open Congressional seat in the Atlanta suburbs.

President Trump blames the media for nearly all of his problems as president

President Donald Trump stepped on stage in Phoenix (AZ) on Aug 22 with something clearly eating at him. Minutes into his style rally, we learned what: It wasn't the white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis who threw the nation into chaos and allegedly killed a woman in Virginia. Or the intractable 16-year war in Afghanistan that he just announced he's revving up. It's the media.

President Trump spent nearly a third — if not more— of his 90-minute rally rehashing his public remarks in the wake of Charlottesville and complaining that he was widely criticized for them. In fact, about the only time he mentioned the racial tensions and violence stirred up last week was in the context of defending himself. The president was so frustrated with media coverage of him that he printed out copies of some of the remarks he gave in the wake of the violence. He read them aloud to the crowd, pausing to express total disbelief that the tone of the coverage wasn't more positive.

Defending Internet Freedom through Decentralization: Back to the Future?

The Web is a key space for civic debate and the current battleground for protecting freedom of expression. However, since its development, the Web has steadily evolved into an ecosystem of large, corporate-controlled mega-platforms which intermediate speech online.

In this report, we explore two important ways structurally decentralized systems could help address the risks of mega-platform consolidation: First, these systems can help users directly publish and discover content directly, without intermediaries, and thus without censorship. All of the systems we evaluate advertise censorship-resistance as a major benefit. Second, these systems could indirectly enable greater competition and user choice, by lowering the barrier to entry for new platforms. As it stands, it is difficult for users to switch between platforms (they must recreate all their data when moving to a new service) and most mega-platforms do not interoperate, so switching means leaving behind your social network. Some systems we evaluate directly address the issues of data portability and interoperability in an effort to support greater competition.