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Government launches digital economy competition review

Obama’s former chief economic advisor will lead panel on competition in the digital economy to ensure regulations are fit for purpose

The government has put together an expert panel to review competition in the digital economy, led by former US president Barack Obama’s chief economic advisor, Jason Furman.  

The panel aims to investigate how to ensure fair competition and that the UK remains a world leader in the digital economy.

Furman – who served as Obama’s advisor from 2013 to 2017, and is currently a professor of practice of economic policy at Harvard University – will lead the panel. He is joined by “thinkers with an in-depth knowledge of competition law and digital markets”.  

The panel’s investigation, which will begin in September 2018, aiming to conclude in early 2019, will look into a series of issues, including looking at tools and frameworks to ensure “effective competition in markets for data”.

Commenting on the panel’s plans, Furman said while digital markets have already produced “significant consumer benefits, including in the UK, we need to fully understand how competition policy needs to adapt going forward”.

“Our focus needs to be on ensuring that consumers continue to benefit from these new technologies while maximising the innovative potential from the economy,” he said.

The panel will investigate how new companies can compete with the existing market, how to handle mergers between tech companies, the impact of holding data within “a few big companies”, and the pros and cons of consolidation in the digital marketplace, with only a small number of “highlighted tech companies”.  

Announcing the review panel, chancellor Philip Hammond said the UK is “already leading the way in the digital revolution”.  

“This is something to be proud of, but at the same time it is only right that we ask the big questions about how we ensure these new digital markets work for everyone,” he said.

The panel launch coincided with the release of a government paper on ensuring economic value from data.  

The paper said the review panel will also have wider remit “to consider the important future tools and requirements for effective competition in the digital economy”.

“This could potentially include the role of data portability, operability and common standards, for example, to reduce barriers to switching for consumers in non-regulated parts of the economy,” the paper said.

The panel will also look at whether “the competition regime – and pro-competition policy more generally – remains sufficiently robust to meet the challenges of the emerging digital economy, and will make recommendations on any changes that may be needed, according to the paper.

“This expert panel will support the government’s wider review of competition law by considering how competition policy can better enable innovation and support consumers in the digital economy,” it said.  

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