Facebook, Google & Amazon: Is it time to create a digital FCC to regulate big tech companies?
Nearly half of U.S. adults -- 48 percent in a new Gallup poll -- say the government should increase its regulation of big technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.
“The Big Tech companies do not merely want to dominate the market — they want to be the market,” Adonis Hoffman, a former Chief of Staff at the Federal Communications Commission, told Fox Business. “There is a fundamental problem when one company can control the supply, demand, distribution, cost, information and rules of the market they are in.”
While the Gallup Poll -- conducted August 1st through August 14th -- also found that 40 percent of Americans believe government regulation should not change while another 10 percent believe less regulation is the way forward.
But the winds of change are blowing around lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, with a desire to figure out a way to reign in big tech. Opinions are wide-ranging on how exactly to do that. But one novel idea picking up steam: Create a digital FCC-type agency that can monitor how major tech companies operate.
A "DCC" (Digital Communications Commission) or "Digital Authority" (DA) is the idea behind a recent report about digital platforms, sponsored by the University of Chicago's Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State. Former Department of Justice senior staffer and Yale University economics professor Fiona Scott Morton led the study. “Its mandate would be to protect competition,” Morton told The New York Times. The agency’s experts would supplement the traditional Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission antitrust regulators and constantly track the tech markets and trends.
"I like the idea of having an expert-run body that focuses entirely on the digital," Nina Jankowicz, a global fellow at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, told Fox Business: “Given the monopoly these companies have on information, their dominance means they’re curating and filtering all the information we receive, from updates on our favorite pop stars to communications from elected officials.”
The Stigler Center report suggests that Congress "define the scope of regulatory power. The definition must include digital businesses that facilitate transactions of any kind (including the sale of advertising). It should have clear and broad authority over digital business models in order to prevent firms subject to regulation from evading its oversight."
Former regulator Hoffman, now Chairman and CEO of Business in the Public Interest, Inc., does not embrace the FCC-like model. "A specialized agency to deal with digital regulation...I do not favor that," said Hoffman.
Hoffman would like to see " a yearlong summit of key stakeholders to develop forward-looking solutions that can lead to law, regulation and even self-regulation."
The Stigler Center report also points out the more people who use an online service, the more users, developers, and advertisers it attracts. Therefore, the bigger it gets, the easier big tech companies overshadow competitors. As of the last reporting period, Amazon had 300 million active users, Facebook had 2.3 billion and Google's Gmail alone had more than 1 billion.
Those numbers are why, Jankowicz argues, it is time to consider a "DCC" or 'DA" type agency. "Just as we have regulations on airlines and cars, we should be regulating social media and technology companies," said Jankowicz, "They have become ubiquitous in our lives and have the potential to cause enormous harm."