Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief adviser, believes that Google and Facebook have become so dominant and essential that they should be regulated like public utilities, according to a new report from The Intercept. Such regulation could be broadly similar to that imposed on cable and telephone operators, whose control of vital infrastructure led to legislation to control prices and encourage competition.
Many observers, including a pair of CNBC anchors who debated the issue Friday, would argue that the technical barriers to entry are low enough that such regulation is unnecessary when it comes to internet services. But Bannon’s reported thinking points to a new frontier in monopoly regulation. While Google and Facebook don’t control a network of wires, their dominance creates other barriers, including so-called “network effects,” that make it hard for new entrants to compete. Facebook has even previously described itself as a “social utility,” and its vast sway in public matters was highlighted when it helped spread deceptive news during the 2016 U.S. election.
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That viewpoint makes the populist Bannon an unlikely bedfellow of the traditionally pro-regulation European Union. The E.U. slapped Google with a $2.7 billion antitrust fine last month for giving its own services preferential treatment in search results.
Bannon’s reported stance also seems to contrast with the stance of Trump’s FCC head, Ajit Pai. Pai has been working to roll back net neutrality rules that treat Internet service providers like utilities.