I'm 100% down for the trend toward trustbusting, and I'm very glad to see it applied to Big Tech, because, like Tom Eastman, I'm old enough to remember when the Internet wasn't a group of five websites, each consisting of screenshots of text from the other four. I'd like to have that Internet again.
What's more, I think many of the Big Tech trustbusters are there because they understand the companies, the economic context, the promise and the peril of industrial concentration: people like Tim Wu, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
I think that the right wing case for busting up Big Tech is much less principled and much more parochial, driven by a desire to force the platforms to let their Nazis stay, and give far-right harassers extra leeway, while pwning the libs.
But that all said, Karl Bode raises an excellent point when he asks why there isn't the same kind of energy to break up the telcos, whose routinely deplorable behavior make them the most loathed industry in America, and whose monopolism has cost America its competitiveness.
Bode points out that Big Telco is the enemy of Big Tech, and has — since the days of the Bell System — sought to monopolize 100% of the profits from the use of its wires (the latest version of this being the Net Neutrality fight).
Bode sees Big Cable's hands working behind the scenes to manipulate and mainstream the debate over monopoly and Big Tech, using conservatives' distress at seeing the "free market" turn into a monopolized communications world that is increasingly hostile to them to get them to overcome their 40-year commitment to permitting monopolies (which are a godsend to the investor class, which is also the political donor class).
There may be some truth to that. Certainly, Big Telco is the consummate lobbying machine, second only to Big Military Industrial Complex, and they're very, very good at leading the political classes around by the nose. That said, I don't think Tim Wu or Liz Warren or AOC or Casey Newton or the Open Markets Institute arrived at their trustbusting ideas because they were duped by cable lobbyist. For one thing, they all want to break up Big Telco, too.
And that's the thing: even if Bode is right and there's a bunch of hidden Big Cable money pushing for the Big Tech trustbusting movement, they're playing a very dangerous game. Once the precedent is set that America is the kind of company that breaks up monopolies, they're not going to stop with Big Tech. Once the Overton Window is resized to allow trustbusting through, it's going to be very hard to slam it shut again.
Yet again, notice how telecom gets a free pass by the Trump administration? Notice how Silicon Valley is demonized, but telecom's surveillance and anti-competitive gambits see zero backlash? I don't think it's happenstance that this new Trump "big tech" antitrust push comes as big telecom has asked for just such a push to aid its own competitive agenda. A lot of folks on both sides of the political aisle who'd like to see more done to rein in "big tech" seem a touch oblivious to the possibility that this new antitrust push may not be entirely in good faith.
There's a good chance these antitrust inquiries into Google, Facebook, and Apple are little more than partisan fever dreams co-driven by telecom lobbyists, yet a lot of outlets and experts are acting as if market health and consumer welfare are genuine motivators. It's entirely unclear what the Trump administration did to suddenly earn this blanket trust, but as the net neutrality fracas made pretty clear, it sure as hell isn't its several year track record on coherent tech policy.
If 'Big Tech' Is a Huge Antitrust Problem, Why Are We Ignoring Telecom? [Karl Bode/Techdirt]