Friday 1 May 2020

Brookings Institute Article on Regulating the Internet (with a nod to antitrust enforcement)

Tom Wheeler at the Brookings Institute has published an interesting article titled, “COVID-19 has Taught Us that the Internet is Critical and Needs Public Interest Oversight.”  Even before COVID-19, the regulation of internet platforms has been a very hot issue in the United States and in other countries.  For example, India recently announced a new regulator for Internet commerce.  In Mr. Wheeler’s article, he discusses why Internet regulation is different from Industrial Age type regulation and proposes four helpful suggestions for moving forward: 

First, do not pretend these challenges can be shoehorned into industrial era regulatory structures. . . .

Second, digital companies should have a seat at the table in the development of the rules rather than having them force-fed. . . . There should be a new federal agency that convenes, oversees, and approves a public-private process that establishes an agency-enforceable Digital Code.

Third, this new Digital Code is not a substitute for antitrust enforcement. The Digital Code is about the behavior of the companies in the services they offer to the public. If a company behaves in an anticompetitive manner, including mergers, that should be the jurisdiction of antitrust enforcers and the Code should not include antitrust exemption.

Fourth, the regulatory oversight needs to be principles-based and agile. Industrial production was a rules-based linear process where each person on the shop floor followed rules for a specific task. Industrial regulation followed the same rigid pattern. In contrast, modern digital products are never finished (think how your smartphone is always updating its software). Digital products are constantly adapting to the changes in their environment. This agile development needs to find its equivalent in agile regulation. Heavy-handed industrial “do this or else” needs to give way to “this is how technology is changing and business practices must evolve as well.”

The full article is available, here.  COVID-19 may speed things up a bit. 

No comments: