Legislators on Friday debated an antitrust law designed to give news publishers collective bargaining power with online platforms like Facebook and Google, and shined the spotlight on a proposal aimed at weakening the power of big tech.
Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, appeared as the leading voice in the industry for the law at a House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing. He took a different path than his technical colleagues and pointed to a power imbalance between publishers and technical platforms. Newspaper advertising revenue fell from $ 49.4 billion in 2005 to $ 14.3 billion in 2018, while Google advertising revenue rose from $ 6.1 billion to $ 116 billion.
“Although news supports search engines, news organizations are often not, or at best, under-compensated for their use,” said Smith. “The problems journalism faces today are due in part to a general lack of competition in the Google-controlled search and ad tech markets.”
The hearing was the second in a series planned by the subcommittee to create the conditions for the creation of stricter antitrust laws. In October, the subcommittee, headed by David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, released the results of a 16-month investigation into the power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The report accused the companies of monopoly behavior.
This week, the committee’s two leaders, Mr. Cicilline and Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, introduced the Law to Conserve Journalism and Competition. The bill is designed to give smaller news publishers the opportunity to band together to negotiate higher fees with online platforms to distribute their content. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and chair of that chamber’s antitrust subcommittee.
Global concern is growing over the decline of local news organizations that rely on online platforms to distribute their content. Australia recently proposed law allowing news publishers to negotiate with Google and Facebook, and lawmakers in Canada and the UK are considering taking similar steps.
Mr Cicilline said, “While I am not viewing this legislation as a substitute for more meaningful online competition – including structural remedies to address underlying problems in the marketplace – it is clear that we need to do something in the short term to save trustworthy journalism it’s lost forever. “
Although Google was not a witness at the hearing, it made a statement in response to Mr Smith’s proposed testimony defending its business practices and belittling the motives of Microsoft, whose Bing search engine ranks a long way behind Google .
“Unfortunately, as competition in these areas increases, they are returning to their familiar game book of attacking rivals and advocating regulations that benefit their own interests,” wrote Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of policy.