There was a rare glimpse of productivity in Washington last week during an anti-trust hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee. The hearing was about the impact tech giants like Google and Facebook have had on the American press and it went, most encouragingly, something like this:
- Members of Congress identified a problem: A struggling free press at the mercy of tech giants squeezing them for cash, which has contributed to the spread of disinformation on the internet.
- They then held a hearing to listen to witnesses involved in the space.
- And finally, after listening to the witnesses, those members of Congress then seemed to reach a bipartisan consensus on how to move forward.
Recognizing the importance of a thriving free press to American democracy, both Both House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and House Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) agreed to support a bill called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would allow publishers to circumvent anti-trust restrictions for 4 years and collectively negotiate with internet companies.
Much of the news industry — including the News Media Alliance, a consortium of about 2,000 other print and online news outlets including The New York Times — likes the idea too.
Consider this part of an evolution in Washington’s thinking on how to protect American capitalism and democracy. For years, politicians, legal scholars and technocrats have believed that there was really only one reason to rein in big, concentrated businesses — if they were forcing prices too high for consumers.
Now, in a digital era where it seems so many products we use on the internet are free, companies like Google and Facebook are challenging that notion. These companies are forcing politicians to ask a central question: “If these products are free, why do so many Americans still feel like they’re getting ripped off?”