Federal broadband administration adding to pressure on Apple

By | February 16, 2022

The new head of the federal broadband administration has revealed that part of his role will extend to reviewing competitiveness in the mobile app ecosystem, adding yet another source of antitrust pressure to Apple’s App Store.

This reflects an executive order from President Biden stating that ‘it is the policy of my Administration to enforce the antitrust laws to combat the excessive concentration of industry, the abuses of market power, and the harmful effects of monopoly’…

Axios revealed the surprising news in an interview with the new leader of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Alan Davidson.

The NTIA’s primary role is to ensure that every American has access to the Internet, which includes both regulating Internet service providers and providing federal funding to make broadband affordable to everyone – up to and including completely covering the cost of a basic package for those unable to afford one.

But Axios reports Davidson’s vision of a broader role for the NTIA.

[He] also has ambitions to tackle Big Tech issues on the horizon, […] talking about helping set administration policy around app stores and privacy […]

Davidson also told Axios his agency will soon launch a review of competition in the mobile app ecosystem, with a goal of producing a report this summer to help develop Biden administration policy.

“I’m really interested in understanding the challenges, particularly that innovators have in navigating the app ecosystem now,” Davidson said […]

He says, “with size comes responsibility. We have these incredibly successful companies that are the envy of the world, but we also need to have more rules of the road in place. If we don’t put those guardrails in place, we leave it open to companies to try and make up the rules themselves.”

The NTIA’s role is not that of a regulator, but rather to advise the President on policy. Davidson referenced Biden’s wide-ranging Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, signed last summer. One section of this includes wording that could well apply to the App Store.

The American information technology sector has long been an engine of innovation and growth, but today a small number of dominant Internet platforms use their power to exclude market entrants, to extract monopoly profits, and to gather intimate personal information that they can exploit for their own advantage.  Too many small businesses across the economy depend on those platforms and a few online marketplaces for their survival.  

There may be better news in another section of the extensive order, which calls for much-needed patent reform. This would likely help reduce the number of patent trolls able to bring lawsuits against Apple for overly-generic concepts.

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