Disclosures about FTC's past Google probe show need for overhaul, House panel leaders say

Newly released documents about the FTC’s decision not to sue Google in 2013 underscore the need for Congress to overhaul federal antitrust laws, leading lawmakers of both parties on the House Judiciary Committee said Thursday.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who chairs Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee, and Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, its top Republican, both cited a package of POLITICO reporting this week that included a top Google executive’s boast in 2009 that the company’s exclusive contracts with mobile phone companies would let it “own the U.S. market.”

“Hundreds of pages of internal memoranda by the Commission’s economists and lawyers obtained by Politico demonstrate that despite significant evidence the FTC was unwilling to challenge Google’s monopoly power,” Cicilline said in his prepared remarks for a hearing Thursday afternoon. “Over and over again, these examples provide case studies of why we need a massive overhaul of our antitrust laws and significant updates to our competition system.

Despite a partisan split on how aggressively to change antitrust law, Buck outlined several areas where Republicans can agree with Democrats, including providing more funding for the FTC and Justice Department and changing the legal standard to make it easier for enforcers to challenge mergers.

“Any increased funds will come with increased oversight and an expectation by taxpayers that the agencies bring the hard cases,” Buck said. “We aren’t making more money available so this type of dilatory behavior by government bureaucrats can continue.”

FTC response: Acting FTC chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, a Democrat who took over as the agency’s head in January, said the agency needs to be more willing to litigate.

“It is clear we have a deterrence problem,” she said.


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