In the early days of this blog, back in 2008, when I repeated the arguments that the Internet shold be seen as a cartel masquerading as anarchy it was relatively easy to find on-line references to the 1912 case that broke apart the US railroad cartel – just as it was seeking to leverage its market dominance to also control the embryonic road haulage industry. [There had been a spate of articles on the judgement when Microsoft was being investgated]
A couple of years ago the judgement became much harder to find amidst adverts irrelevant adverts triggered by the terms I used to try to find it – after the links I used the last time I referenced it no longer worked. Earlier today, having grown tired of wading through the paid entries that now preface any useful results from a Google search, I decided to try DuckDuckGo . A useful result came up instantly at the head of the list. Interestingly, when I then tried again using Google and Yahoo, having got the precise reference, I did get the same result. What I did not get was uncharged articles that put it into modern context, such as the Wikipaedia entry on Essential Facilities .
Why is this sopotentially important – including for UK discussions over the Digital Infrastructure on which modern sociaty now depends?
A couple of days ago, at an excellent Westminster eForum event on Priorities for Broadband I heard the Director of Group Inustry Policy for BT repeating the argument that Broadband was not a utility and should not be regulated as such. Is that sustainable now that US Federal Communications Commission has ruled, albeit subject to a probable appeal to the Supreme Court, that it is a utility and should be so regulated?
The landmark FCC judgement on Net Neutrality looks like a victory for the ISP community (Google et al) over the Infrastructure Community (Verizon et al) who want to charge premium rates for privileged access to that which consumes most bandwidth. However, the decision to regulate Internet Service Providers under the US regulations for telecoms providers has profound implications. Meanwhile Google has said it is not a monopoly because it has competitors like DuckDuck . Hmmmm …
Until today I was among those who thought that Google was an “Essential Facility” – and therefore potentially liable to serious anti-trust action to stop it from spreading its tentancles as the US railroad industry was doing, when brought to heel in 1912. Now I know that I can do many, perhaps most, of my own searches faster without it. But the world, and the FCC, appears to have caught up with the arguments I heard nearly a decade ago at the Oxford Internet Institute.
I suspect that Google, as an integrated entity, has passed its zenith. But when I said, nearly a year ago, that Christmas was creeping up on the Young Turks of yesterday , I also said that I expected the Googlettes to soon be collectively worth more than Google, just as the break up of Standard Oil made the Rockefeller family even richer. Are Apple and Microsoft at risk of similar break up pressures – or does their apparent head to head competition preserve them?
Meanwhile all three, any many others, are at risk as tax authorities around the world sharpen their knives and off-line businesses demand equality of tax treatment, on-line and off.
Politics is about to meet IT, whether IT likes or not.