Ohio lawmakers held their second hearing into whether tech giants such as Google and Facebook are engaged in anticompetitive behaviors that harm consumers or violate antitrust laws.
On Monday at the University of Cincinnati, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from legal experts and representatives from interested parties. Committee members heard from parties that claimed that more regulation is necessary to prevent big tech from controlling content as well as those who argued that statewide regulations could actually harm the marketplace.
Professor Felix Chang, the co-director of the Corporate Law Center at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, told the committee that a person in a rural area will not often have access to more than one or two potential internet service providers. Because of the lack of options, a company may be able to run a monopoly that determines the type of content a person can access.
As an example, Chang noted that the Comcast-Time Warner merger could slow access to Google because the company holds stock in Hulu. This, he said, would benefit their company by gutting access to an opponent’s service.
David Chaver, the president and CEO of News Media Alliance, warned that the growth of big tech is a threat to the news industry. Tech giants, he said, follow algorithms that can suppress brands, control data or refuse to recognize quality journalism.
Print newspaper circulation is dropping significantly, and many small newspapers are going out of business, Chavern said. He said the unprecedented control coming from tech giants has made it difficult for any news outlet to build a sustainable business model.
Others testified the opposite, arguing that the internet has led to innovation that has allowed smaller voices to be more easily heard.
Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, said that the American model for looking into antitrust laws is whether consumers are being harmed; he said that generally, the government will step aside because the most hardworking and most successful will typically win out.
Szabo pointed to the ice bucket challenge as an example, which helped raise money for cancer research. He also said that the internet has provided the means for many different social media platforms, citing the rise of TikTok, Discord and Snapchat.
Older concerns about monopolistic power usually fade away with time as innovation pushes them aside, Szabo said. He pointed toward unfounded fears such as a social media monopoly from Myspace, a monopoly of video rentals from the Blockbuster-Hollywood Video merger, and a search engine monopoly from Yahoo.
Jack Ward, president of the Connected Commerce Council, argued that the tech giants have made life easier for many small businesses and warned that regulations could make life more difficult for them.
“Small business tells a simple and straightforward story – that large, data-intensive digital platforms such as Google, Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Yelp, Pinterest, TripAdvisor, Walmart.com, Houzz, QuickBooks and many more – benefit their businesses, help them compete, and accelerate their success,” he testified. “They help small businesses start, grow and succeed in previously unimaginable ways – not only locally but globally.”
The attorney general in almost every state, including Ohio, has launched an investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices of Google. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has also joined a multistate investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices from Facebook. The U.S. Justice Department has launched investigations into Google, Facebook, Apple and other companies accused of violating antitrust laws.
The European Union recently fined Google €1.5 billion (more than $1.6 billion) for antitrust violations. The EU is also investigating whether Facebook’s Libra Currency violates antitrust laws.
Google and Facebook have stated that they do not violate antitrust laws.