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Trump’s chief strategist: ‘Regulate tech giants like utilities’

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According to anonymous sources, prominent White House figure and former executive chair of far-right Breitbart News Steve Bannon is in favour of breaking up the monopolies of Google and Facebook, and regulating them as utilities.

According to three anonymous sources who disclosed the conversation to The Intercept, Bannon believes that some companies become so integral and necessary to everybody’s lives that they could be considered as utilities providers by regulators.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, has described Facebook as a “social utility”, something that people frequently use in their everyday lives.

When a company is regulated as a utility, this does not necessarily mean that it enters government control. However, in most countries, utilities are more tightly regulated in their business strategy and pricing. Companies with effective monopolies on certain sectors such as social networking and messaging (Facebook) or internet searches (Google) could risk being carved up.

It is not known how these tech utilities could be regulated, or whether this is a realistic possibility. Some tech giants have already divided into independently operating elements, such as Google’s search function, which is separate from other Alphabet ventures.

The Democratic Party’s recently released package of political objectives, the “Better Deal” for workers, includes breaking up monopolies in various sectors, suggesting possible consensus on left and right in the US regarding the disarmament of monopolies.

Under President Obama, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made a significant move towards treating internet service providers as utilities. This bars them from treating web content favourably or unfavourably (such as allowing some pages to load faster) in order to encourage the payment of higher fees. This enforces the principle of net neutrality, and protects small internet service providers from being crushed by giants of the sector such as Verizon and Comcast.

President Trump’s newly appointed chair of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is leading an attempt to repeal of this law in the face of widespread protest.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, tech firms have rapidly set new lobbying spending records in Washington, with Google, Apple, Amazon and Uber all breaking their previous records between April and June 2017.

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