Consider this a combination “Save the date” card and “watch this space” notice. The topic at hand is incremental Tech and Media regulation in the United States, something that:
- Will have a long on ramp before it is created and adopted.
- Will have cast a notable shadow on companies it targets once investors see the process gain speed.
While splashy Congressional hearings like last week’s Sandberg/Dorsey showing get all the press, the real work in government rule-making always happens under the radar. Regulation is the proverbial iceberg in that regard: the part you see isn’t the bit that sinks the boat.
Later this week the Federal Trade Commission will host a two-day meeting in Washington to kick off its “Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century”. There are 5 more hearings scheduled for the remainder of the year, with topics such as:
- Privacy regulation
- The identification of collusive, exclusionary and predatory conduct by digital and technology-based platform businesses
- Privacy, big data and competition
- Algorithms, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics
- You can see the dates and topics for all currently scheduled meetings here: https://www.ftc.gov/policy/hearings-competition-consumer-protection
The first hearings are Thursday and Friday of this week, with topics including:
- The regulation of consumer data
- Has the US economy become more concentrated and less competitive? (the same question was discussed at several Jackson Hole Fed meeting presentations last month, with the answer always “Yes”)
- 2 sessions on the consumer welfare standard in anti-trust law
- 2 sessions on vertical mergers (a hot button topic in media just now)
- Full agenda here: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/events-calendar/2018/09/ftc-hearing-1-competition-consumer-protection-21st-century
Keep in mind that new FTC Commissioner Joseph Simons testified in front of Congress back in July that his agency needs more authority, so these hearings are not simply fact finding missions. Also important: the FTC is now the de facto regulator for Internet Service Providers since the Federal Trade Commission rescinded net neutrality earlier this year. And both recent congressional hearings and the occasional presidential tweet have put Google, Facebook, Twitter and others in the spotlight just now. Those are the visible parts of the iceberg…
Here are two good articles on the hearings if you want to learn more:
For telecomm/ISP companies: https://www.broadcastingcable.com/news/ftc-prepares-to-wade-in-to-digital-age-competition
Background on what Chair Simons hopes to achieve: https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=6634e266-4688-4483-a307-6ab39cd8db5e
Bottom line: we’re early in bringing these hearings to your attention, but they represent the first audible drumbeats of future Tech and Media regulation. As they gain momentum later in the year, we expect you will hear much more about them.