Rash Antitrust Reforms Risk Making the Online News Market Less Open, Less Competitive, and Less Innovative, Says ITIF

March 12, 2021

WASHINGTON—With the U.S. House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee convening a March 12 hearing on “Saving the Free and Diverse Press,” the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, issued the following statement from Aurelien Portuese, ITIF’s director of antitrust and innovation policy:

Regulating the online news market the way the subcommittee is contemplating would make the Internet less open, less competitive, and less innovative. Policymakers in Australia and Europe have started going down that path, having taken inspiration from recommendations in the subcommittee’s recent staff report on competition in digital markets. The last thing America should do is follow suit.

The staff report claimed without substantiation that online news is becoming less free and less diverse. It failed to consider that digital advertising revenue for traditional news publishers may simply reflect the evolution of the media market and changes in consumers’ preferences. It also failed to weigh the considerable benefits that news aggregators and digital platforms offer by making a diversity of news sources more accessible as ever for citizens.

The recommendations in the staff report pose several risks:

  • They would make the Internet less open by encouraging snippet taxes like the European and Australian models, which would fossilize the free flow of information. There is no legal rationale for it, either. Policing online speech isn’t an antitrust matter, even if it’s done cautiously for constitutional purposes.
  • They would make the online news market less competitive, because the staff report explicitly suggests a cartelization of news publishers against news aggregators. Price-fixing agreements and collusive practices among news publishers that are now illegal would become legal—ironically rendering antitrust enforcement less effective.
  • They would make the online news market less innovative, because there would be less incentive to for platforms and aggregators to invest in disruptive new technologies. Online news would move back toward a traditional pay-per-click model, which would limit publishers’ horizons and disaffect consumers.

Ultimately, the reforms that the staff report recommended would lead to a less free and less diverse press—directly counter to the subcommittee’s stated objectives. It would be detrimental to an open Internet and to the progress of America’s civic interests.

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Rash Antitrust Reforms Risk Making the Online News Market Less Open, Less Competitive, and Less Innovative, Says ITIF