Week 6 turns to the monopoly problems—and solutions—in the technology sector. At the center of the readings’ concern is technology companies’ power as platforms and intermediaries for economic activity. Oren Bracha and Frank Pasquale, for example, argue that search engines like Google have emerged as the “new intermediaries” of communication and thereby exert significant control over public discourse. Lina Khan homes in on the role that the largest technology companies play as both providers of platforms for commerce and competitors on those same platforms—positioning them as gatekeepers in the economy and allowing them to thwart competition. Similarly, Sabeel Rahman calls the large tech platforms the “new utilities,” comparing them to the railroad and energy utilities and other common carriers that the Progressives brought under state and federal regulatory control.
In response to tech platforms’ monopoly power, the readings propose a variety of solutions that combine anti-monopoly tools of antitrust, public utility regulation, and public options. Professors Bracha and Pasquale, for example, discuss the First Amendment implications of regulating search engines and argue that the First Amendment ultimately does not prevent such regulation. Professor Khan argues that combatting platforms’ anti-competitive behavior will require reversing contemporary antitrust doctrines’ permissiveness toward certain vertical restraints and resuscitating structural separations as both an antitrust remedy and regulatory strategy. Dina Srinivasan puts forward a path for challenging Facebook’s platform power under existing antitrust doctrine, while Hal Singer argues that antitrust law cannot fully address the innovation harms caused by dominant platforms and calls for a regulatory approach. These and other readings reflect both the value and the complexity of applying longtime anti-monopoly tools to the new and evolving context of information technology.
In the recorded lecture, Professor Pasquale pulls back the lens to look at the underlying economic theories and “economistic approaches” that have undermined antitrust and regulatory solutions to technology platform power. Professor Pasquale focuses on five “trusts” of the contemporary internet: the “social trust” dominated by Facebook; the “search trust” dominated by Google; the “online retail trust” of Amazon; the “OS duopoly” of Apple and Microsoft; and the “app store duopoly” of Google and Apple. For each, he discusses how anti-monopoly and regulatory approaches can be applied to reduce their harms and increase their benefits for the economy and democracy. As Professor Pasquale concludes, “either we begin to get serious about regulating big technology firms . . . or we will be regulated by them.”