U.S. antitrust chief says past enforcement could presage new probe of current digital giants

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. antitrust enforcer said on Tuesday that studying enforcement actions against Standard Oil and AT&T decades ago can help lay the groundwork for looking at possible anti-competitive behavior at today’s tech giants such as Alphabet’s Google and Facebook.

FILE PHOTO: A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display in this illustration taken in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, which enforce U.S. antitrust laws, have divided potential investigations of the four companies, with Google and Apple being probed by the Justice Department and the FTC looking at Amazon.com Inc and Facebook.

Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general, noted in a video speech to a conference in Israel that the Justice Department had previously fought giant corporations in court and prevailed.

Delrahim pointed to past big antitrust victories, like the breakup of Standard Oil early in the last century and AT&T, which agreed to be broken up in 1982.

Delrahim argued that, like the tech giants today, Standard Oil had cutting edge technology and came of age during a time of rapid technological change. “Another important parallel for modern observers is that consumers actually enjoyed lower prices during the height of Standard Oil’s dominance,” he said.

Delrahim said that AT&T’s telephone networks were an early example of the “network effect,” because its early refusal to connect independent companies to its long distance lines hurt those companies.

Like the digital giants, Delrahim argued, AT&T defended itself by saying it offered better prices,

Keep reading this article on Reuters Business.

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