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Written Testimonies & Filings Abstract Seeking to boost funding for the next generation of telecommunications infrastructure, European Union (EU) policymakers have proposed mandating that some large online platforms pay . . .
Seeking to boost funding for the next generation of telecommunications infrastructure, European Union (EU) policymakers have proposed mandating that some large online platforms pay a special usage fee to network operators. Framed as a way to ensure that the largest users of internet infrastructure contribute their “fair share” to telecommunications networks, the proposal would be another unnecessary and harmful regulatory intervention. These comments paper seek to demonstrate that the fair-share debate itself is, in fact, the byproduct of an earlier intrusive government initiative: net-neutrality regulation. Like net neutrality’s anti-discrimination rules, a “fair share” tax would represent a solution that doesn’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist. Moreover, the debate reflects the EU’s fundamentally misguided inclination toward an industrial-policy approach to the digital transformation, built on the unsound belief that innovation can be delivered via regulation and by subsidizing legacy domestic firms with rents transferred from successful global players. Rather than continuing to interfere in market dynamics and private negotiations without any solid evidence of market failure, the EU should instead learn from its past mistakes and acknowledge the limited scope for regulation in these dynamic markets.
“[W]e have a vision, and we have a goal,” European Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a February 2023 speech in Helsinki announcing the launch of a public consultation on the future of connectivity and infrastructure in the European Union (EU). The consultation’s stated goal is to keep pace with transformative technological developments and to make Europe a digital leader by boosting deployment of forward-looking telecommunications infrastructure. Toward this end, the European Commission argues, it is essential that the regulatory framework is fit for purpose, with adequate funding to support the required investments.
Given that ambitious goal, these comments investigate the likelihood that this vision can become a reality.
As part of the 2030 Digital Decade policy program, European policymakers are seeking a means to equip Europe with the next generation of connectivity infrastructure. The primary solution offered—one that has the backing of incumbent European telecom operators (telcos)—is to make some large online platforms (so-called “Big Tech”) contribute to the cost of telecom networks. The proposal has been justified on grounds that Big Tech firms use a large share of bandwidth, while the telcos have seen a decline in their returns on investment.
Essentially, the proposal would constitute a direct welfare transfer from online content and application providers (CAPs) or over-the-top service providers (OTTs) to benefit telcos and other internet service providers (ISPs). This would be accomplished by setting a data-transmission threshold and charging CAPs a fee when they transmit data exceeding that threshold. Indeed, the questionnaire the Commission released as part of the public consultation does not ask whether such a levy is needed, but merely seeks input on how it should be structured.
Unsurprisingly, telcos have described the fair-share tax as “a once in a lifetime opportunity to recover digital leadership in Europe.” Telco operators argue that a few Big Tech firms generate a significant portion of all internet traffic, but do not adequately contribute to the development of such networks. These concerns find support in the recent European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for the Digital Decade, which calls for a framework through which “all market actors benefiting from the digital transformation assume their social responsibilities and make a fair and proportionate contribution to the costs of public goods, services and infrastructures, for the benefit of all Europeans.”
EU policymakers have also explored the need to encourage consolidation in the telecom industry in order to sustain investments that will stanch “Europe’s progressive technological decline.” Under this vision, the path to promote investment and spur innovation in Europe’s digital future would be forged not only through rent transfers from CAPs to telcos, but also by defeating “excessive competition” in the telecom section.
We argue here that the current debate stems, instead, from earlier invasive and unnecessary regulatory initiatives. Notably, the “fair share” proposal is the poison fruit of net-neutrality regulation, which has prevented telcos from monetizing their networks. In an alternative framework, the telecom sector could have instead been permitted to manage the transmission of content and services according to their value for end users, anticipated bandwidth use, or a host of other quality requirements upon which various CAPs depend.
Rather than acknowledging the limits of regulation, the fair-share proposal reflects the Commission’s persistent distrust of market forces and private-ordering mechanisms. Further, the debate represents just the latest instance of a more generalized EU industrial-policy approach to the digital transformation. This approach rests on the unsound belief that innovation can be delivered through regulation and by subsidizing legacy domestic EU firms through the transfer of rents from successful global players.
Having in this section provided an overview of the conflict between telecom operators and CAPs, Section II frames the “fair share” debate within the broader EU industrial-policy approach to the digital transformation, noting similarities with earlier efforts to support the EU’s audiovisual and publishing industries. Section III investigates the controversial relationship between “fair share” duties and net-neutrality rules. Section IV points out the limited role for regulation and the principles that should guide government intervention in fast-moving industries. Section V concludes.
The 2030 Digital Decade policy program highlights the need to foster investment in high-speed telecommunications networks if the EU is to meet the connectivity targets established in the path to the digital transformation.
Data traffic represents the critical determinant of telecom networks’ size and capacity. EU telcos claim, however, that exponential growth of internet traffic has left them unable to earn viable returns on network investments. According to the telcos, traffic growth is disproportionately driven by a small number of OTTs, who provide relatively little direct economic contribution to network rollout.
According to a report for the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO), just six firms generated roughly 56% of all network traffic, with Google accounting for 21%; Meta accounting for 15.4%; Netflix accounting for 9.4%; Apple accounting for 4.2%; Amazon accounting for 3.7%; and Microsoft accounting for 3.3%. Further, a study conducted by Frontier Economics on behalf of Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefo?nica, and Vodafone estimated that traffic driven by OTTs could generate annual costs for EU telcos of €36 to 40 billion. Such findings are often cited by telcos to make the case that OTTs are free riding on their network investments and need to be made to more equitably share the burden:
Digital platforms are profiting from hyper scaling business models at little cost while network operators shoulder the required investments in connectivity. At the same time our retail markets are in perpetual decline in terms of profitability.
To address the concern of free riding, telcos have proposed a sending-party-network-pays system, which would mandate that the largest online platforms pay usage fees to compensate network operators. In singling out the largest platforms for exceptional treatment, the proposal resembles how EU institutions already approach the regulation of “gatekeepers” under the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and “very large online platforms” under the Digital Services Act (DSA). The proposal would establish a direct compensation mechanism, rather than private negotiations among the relevant parties, because it assumes that network operators are not positioned to negotiate fair terms with leading OTTs due to the latter’s alleged strong market positions, asymmetric bargaining power, and a lack of a level regulatory playing field.
The telcos point to the revenue and market capitalization enjoyed by the largest OTTs as demonstrating that the services Big Tech provides are essential for consumers. But while the growth in traffic volume for the OTTs’ services creates additional costs for network operators, the telcos contend that they cannot respond to that growth in demand with higher retail prices, both because of strong competition in the retail telecommunications market and due to regulatory interventions at the wholesale level. These factors, they contend, have created an uneven regulatory playing field between OTTs and telcos. Moreover, they argue that this uneven playing field has contributed to declining profit margins for telcos’ traditional retail revenue streams and that, consequently, telcos’ costs of capital are now higher than their returns on capital.
For their part, OTTs argue that they contribute to the internet ecosystem with investments in content-delivery networks and infrastructure—such as data centers, undersea cables, and satellites—and by creating content that is attractive to consumers, who in turn buy access from the ISPs to consume that content. Therefore, they argue, it is the end users who generate traffic by consuming content, and they already pay ISPs through their subscriptions.
This debate over how network costs should be allocated is not new, and nor is the idea of a sending-party-network-pays system. The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) rejected a similar proposal 10 years ago, arguing that requests for dataflows stem not from content providers, but from retail ISPs’ own customers. BEREC further contended that increased demand for broadband access can be attributed to the success of content providers.
Indeed, broadband networks are two-sided markets that bring together CAPs and end users. ISPs derive revenue from end users, who in turn pay for internet service to gain access to OTTs’ content. Since both sides of the market (content providers and end users) contribute to the cost of internet connectivity, BEREC found that “[t]here is no evidence that operators’ network costs are already not fully covered and paid for in the Internet value chain.”
Further, BEREC acknowledged that the current “model has enabled a high level of innovation, growth in Internet connectivity, and the development of a vast array of content and applications, to the ultimate benefit of the end user.” Therefore, “the nature of services to be delivered across the network, and the charging mechanisms applied to them, should continue to be left to commercial negotiations among stakeholders.”
While prevailing internet traffic volumes are notably higher today than those observed a decade ago, it does not appear that BEREC regards the recent changes in traffic patterns as sufficient to modify its underlying assumptions regarding the sending-party-network-pays regime. Indeed, in a recent preliminary assessment of a proposed direct compensation mechanism to benefit telcos, BEREC confirmed that it feels “the 2012 conclusions are still valid” and that the sending-party-network-pays model would provide ISPs “the ability to exploit the termination monopoly” and could be of “significant harm to the internet ecosystem.”
BEREC also questioned the assumption that an increase in traffic directly translates into higher costs, noting that the costs of network upgrades necessary to handle increased traffic volumes are small relative to total network costs, and that upgrades come with significant increases in capacity. In other words, BEREC found that rising traffic volumes do not directly lead to significant incremental costs relative to total network costs.
Finally, BEREC once again found no evidence of free riding along the value chain, finding that the IP-interconnection ecosystem remains largely competitive and that costs for internet connectivity are typically covered by ISPs’ customers.
It would be reasonable to assume that if there had been such a significant free-riding, this would have been reflected in ISPs financial statements and also in loss warnings.
BEREC’s preliminary findings and continued skepticism of replacing freely negotiated internet interconnections with mandated network-usage fees are supported by studies that similarly find a lack of evidence of free riding; report significant investments by CAPs to support network infrastructure; and raise concerns about the potential side effects of a sending-party-network-pays model on the proper functioning of internet connectivity.
A study conducted by WIK-Consult for the Federal Network Agency Germany (Bundesnetzagentur) confirmed that the IP-interconnection ecosystem is largely competitive and warned against the kinds of potential unintended consequences already seen in South Korea, the only country thus far that has mandated sending-party-network-pays billing. South Korea provides a cautionary tale about the adverse effects that stem from interference in voluntary negotiations. Indeed, there is evidence that the competitive distortions between CAPs and ISPs generated by the Korean initiative had negative effects for consumers in terms of costs and the degradation of quality.
Some EU member states have also been skeptical of telcos’ pleas and of the idea more generally that charging a toll on the internet is an appropriate strategy to promote network investments. According to these members, the proposed “fair share” toll would pose considerable risks to the internet ecosystem and is likely to cause considerable harm to businesses and consumers. Indeed, as the envisaged data-transmission tax will affect the most popular services and content, a huge percentage of consumers are expected to bear the relative cost, as targeted OTTs eventually pass the new fees paid to ISPs downstream. These concerns were expressed in a letter from Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands that urged the Commission to publish the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive (BCRD) review without discussion of the “fair share” debate. In their view, while the revised BCRD should aim to accelerate the deployment of very high-capacity networks, the fair-share proposal is a distinct topic that requires a proper evidence-based assessment of its own merits.
From a broader perspective, the “fair share” debate reflects the EU’s recent industrial-policy approach to the digital transformation.
The internet has deeply transformed traditional industries by favoring the emergence of new business models and creating opportunities for new players to enter those markets. Because of these challenges, some legacy incumbents struggle to keep pace with innovation and new forms of competition, disrupting entire industries. It is no secret that Europe has lagged behind in the digital economy and that established European companies have suffered most from the emergence of digital markets, as they have thus far been unable to develop competitive platform-based ecosystems.
Against this backdrop, European institutions have looked to subsidies as the solution to rescue some legacy players. Such interventions have been justified by policymakers on grounds of alleged market failures or the importance of public interests at stake. Such claims are not new, and public deliberation would ordinarily turn to evaluating whether the claimed market failures are real and whether the measures identified to promote future competition and innovation are effective. But EU policymakers have managed to evade such questions by insisting that the rescues they obviously seek not rely directly on subsidies from the European public. Instead, the proposed subsidies would come from private, largely U.S.-based firms.
In sum, the manifesto for the new protectionist EU industrial policy is to “blame and tax Big Tech.” This narrative holds that the success of a few large online platforms is the cause of the purported market failures, and that it is therefore fair to tax their success and force them to share their profits. The approach is shortsighted but, from the perspective of EU policymakers, certainly convenient.
The internet’s impact on business models is seen as particularly threatening to the media industry. In light of new technologies to transmit audiovisual-media services, European institutions argued for a regulatory framework that would ensure “optimal conditions of competitiveness” for European media and safeguard certain “public interests, such as cultural diversity.”
The policy solutions identified by the revised Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive are twofold. First, European works are required to represent at least 30% of on-demand audiovisual-media services’ catalogs, and the services are require to ensure the prominence of those works. Second, to ensure adequate levels of investment in European works, EU member states are permitted to impose financial obligations (including requiring direct investments in content and mandated contributions to the national fund) on media-service providers established within their territory, or on the basis of revenues the providers generate from services that are provided in and targeted toward the member state’s territory.
In other words, to counter U.S. platforms’ dominance in the European video-on-demand (VOD) market, the new AVMS Directive targets large foreign companies by imposing content quotas and financial obligations under a regime that has been termed the “Netflix tax.” While this protectionist intervention to rescue the European audiovisual market is ostensibly made in the name of the public interest, both of the envisaged measures more accurately reflect resentment of the global players’ success than they do concern for Europe’s noble cultural diversity.
Shortly after the AVMS Directive’s enactment, taxing Big Tech also became the preferred solution to rescue the European publishing industry. Seeking to address a purported gap in value between digital platforms and news publishers, the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market granted the latter a right to control and receive compensation for the reproduction and availability of online summaries of their news articles. Indeed, publishers claim that the sustainability of their entire industry has been jeopardized by the emergence of digital gatekeepers, which capture most of the advertising revenue without bearing the cost of the investments needed to produce news content. It is alleged that this unfair split of revenues is the result of asymmetric bargaining power, which makes it difficult for press publishers to negotiate with Big Tech on an equal footing.
In sum, the news publishers’ case that free riding and asymmetry of bargaining power justify their request for revenue sharing are the same arguments used by telcos to support their own “fair share” proposal. The publishing industry’s struggles, however, started swell before the emergence of digital platforms. Newspapers’ business models were first hit by the advent of the internet, which changed consumption habits and enabled the growth of new forms of journalism. Moreover, digital platforms arguably play a complementary role to news sites, as legacy publishers benefit from inbound links that drive audience traffic. Indeed, empirical evidence does not support the free-riding narrative. It may be sound policy to support publishers in their digital transformation but, as argued some years ago, “[t]axing new digital players will not save press publishing industry and legacy business models.”
Such findings also apply to the telcos. Indeed, as is evident from this brief analysis, there are strong similarities between the audiovisual market and the publishing industry when it comes to the fair share of network costs. All of these policy initiatives stem from European industries’ inability to keep the pace with the digital transformation that has been enhanced by the spread of high-speed internet. While the internet revolution has enabled the emergence of new global players, legacy European companies are struggling to adapt their business models and strategies in order to compete.
In this context, policymakers frequently invoke the need to protect public interests as justification for regulatory interventions they claim would correct purported market failures, but that instead merely alter the prevailing market dynamics. Indeed, protectionist interventions that impose financial obligations on successful players will not address the problems in question, and will therefore be ineffective at achieving the goal of closing the competition gap between European firms and the global players. Moreover, as discussed in the next section, taxing online providers in the telecommunications sector, specifically, would appear to be clearly at odds with the rationale that underlies European efforts to enforce the net-neutrality regulation.
The European Commission’s “fair share” proposal is of dubious compatibility with net neutrality, which was the flagship initiative delivered by the Commission in the previous political term. Indeed, the Commission has appeared anxious to reassure the public that there is no going back on net neutrality and that it remains “strongly committed” to protecting a neutral and open internet. But there are manifest concerns that direct compensation from large OTTs to ISPs would endanger the principle of net neutrality. Indeed, the fair-share proposal appears at odds with both the legal obligations of net neutrality and its underlying economic rationale.
Net neutrality has always been a particularly contentious topic, as confirmed by the transatlantic divergence on the topic. While the EU regulation remains in force, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Open Internet Order was repealed in 2018 by the superseding Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The FCC reverted to its pre-2015 position, concluding that the benefits of a market-based, light-touch regime for internet governance outweigh those of utility-style, common-carrier regulation. Quoting then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, “there was no problem to solve. The Internet was not broken in 2015. We were not living in a digital dystopia.”
Given the assumption that broadband providers enjoy endemic market power, a common feature of net-neutrality regulations is the imposition of non-discrimination rules that ensure all internet traffic is treated equally. As terminating-access monopolists, ISPs are deemed gatekeepers for edge providers that seek to reach their end-user subscribers—hence, they may discriminate against the former and impose restrictions on the latter. Toward this end, the 2015 Open Internet Order imposed three ex ante bright-line rules preventing U.S. ISPs from blocking content, throttling traffic, or discriminating against specific content for a fee (so-called “paid prioritization”). These rules were predicated on the belief that there was a need to protect and promote openness, since “the Internet’s openness promotes innovation, investment, competition, free expression, and other national broadband goals.”
In a similar vein, by establishing common rules to safeguard equal and non-discriminatory treatment of internet traffic, the EU Regulation pointed to the need to protect end-users and guarantee the continued functioning of the internet ecosystem as an engine of innovation:
The internet has developed over the past decades as an open platform for innovation with low access barriers for end-users, providers of content, applications and services and providers of internet access services. … However, a significant number of end-users are affected by traffic management practices which block or slow down specific applications or services.
Indeed, proponents of net neutrality typically claim that allowing ISPs to treat different CAPs differently through, e.g., paid prioritization would stifle innovation by hindering the entrance of new content providers. This, in turn, would negatively affect the welfare of end-users through rising subscription fees, less variety of content, and reduced quality of connections. Opponents, on the other hand, question the very economic logic of net-neutrality regulation, maintaining that it would increase regulatory costs, dampen ISPs’ incentives to invest in broadband capacity, and harm both consumers and content providers.
Moreover, these types of regulations explicitly prevent ISPs from bargaining with CAPs in ways that would allow ISPs to seek payment for excessive network usage. Thus, some substantial portion of the “problem” that “fair share” seeks to correct directly arises from telcos being constrained from arm’s-length negotiations with CAPs.
Net-neutrality opponents also contest the claim that ISPs have and use market power in ways that lead to market foreclosure, arguing that this is not supported by empirical evidence. A related concern is that vertically integrated ISPs with market power could potentially self-preference their own content. But even if a vertically integrated ISP had market power, it is not obvious that compromising the quality of content requested by end users would be profit maximizing. That is, even in this extreme hypothetical, the threat of user defection because of degraded quality mutes or answers the concern.
More generally, the economic literature has stressed that the consequences of net-neutrality regulation depend on precise policy choices, how they are implemented, and how long-run economic trade-offs play out. Strict net neutrality may lead to socially inefficient allocations of traffic, as well as traffic inflation. It would thereby harm efficiency by distorting both ISPs and content providers’ investments and service-quality choices.
Given the ambiguous effects of net neutrality’s anti-discrimination rules, the most controversial issue concerns whether any value is added value by enforcing a net-neutrality regime through an ex ante regulatory ban, rather than traditional ex post case-by-case antitrust enforcement. Indeed, net neutrality introduces a blanket ban of practices that would not be per se antitrust violations. Notably, net neutrality de facto prevents broadband providers from introducing vertical contractual restraints, which have typically proven to be welfare enhancing more often than anticompetitive. Therefore, there is a risk that, in the name of leveling the playing field, net neutrality focuses on competitor welfare rather than consumer welfare. In sum, given the ambiguous welfare effects of discrimination, it is impossible to establish in advance whether the purported exclusionary effects outweigh their potential procompetitive benefits. Hence, there is no economic support for an ex ante absolute prohibition.
The “fair share” solution of taxing Big Tech to fund broadband-network improvements also appears to violate both the economic rationale for and legal obligation of equal treatment under net neutrality. By only imposing fees on OTTs that transmit data exceeding a certain threshold, the “fair share” proposal clearly discriminates against some online services and content—that is, the largest ones. With regard to the economic rationale, net neutrality has been justified on the grounds that broadband providers enjoy endemic market power as terminating-access monopolies. It would therefore be strange to impose an intervention to restore “fairness” in the relationship between network operators and content providers on the premise that the former suffers from an asymmetry of bargaining power. Indeed, under EU net-neutrality rules, ISPs are assumed to have insurmountable bargaining power, even though the “fair share” proposal presumes them to be powerless before Big Tech.
Indeed, as noted above, net neutrality is a primary driver of the current “fair share” debate. Allowing paid prioritization between ISPs and CAPs likely would have prevented the emergence of these claims. Indeed, it could be argued that, on the one hand, net neutrality has tilted the balance in favor of large OTTs and, on the other hand, paid prioritization would be the efficient market answer to different content offerings.
Notably, conventional economic principles justify vertical restraints and discriminatory practice, as online content varies in terms of value for consumers, bandwidth use, and quality requirements. Indeed, as was raised years ago during the U.S. net-neutrality debate, a ban on paid prioritization is inconsistent with a well-developed body of literature showing that it is impossible to determine ex ante whether any specific instance of paid prioritization will have positive or negative effects for consumers. Moreover, restraints on prioritization are likely to thwart a range of welfare-increasing business models on the internet and to chill further pricing innovations.
Therefore, the fair-share proposal struggles to address the same fundamental question already raised in the case of net neutrality: whether a regulatory intervention is justified in the first place.
According to the economic literature, regulatory intervention is only justified under limited circumstances. The case for regulation is best substantiated where it can correct market failures, such as when free and unrestricted competition is unable to allocate resources efficiently. Even under the romantic assumption that regulation serves consumers’ interests and policymakers have sufficient information and enforcement powers to both promote the public interest and maximize social welfare, the primary focus of regulation will still be to tackle market failures.
Outside those examples of market failure, effective competition is commonly accepted to be the best regulator, as it has been empirically demonstrated to lead to lower prices, better quality, and greater innovation. Without a proper justification, regulation negatively interferes in market dynamics by generating inefficiencies, introducing artificial barriers to entry, and deterring technological innovation.
Calibrating regulation is extremely difficult. Although regulation is expected to be forward-looking, it may lack flexibility, and the imposition of rigid sets of rules can risk enshrining a static view of the market at the expense of its dynamic evolution. Moreover, consistent with both private-interest and public-choice theory, government intervention is often prone to capture by special interests, rather than promoting general social welfare.
Although these are limits of regulation generally, they are particularly critical in fast-moving industries, where it is challenging to design a future-proof framework. Therefore, especially when dealing with digital transformations, it is appropriate to embrace regulatory humility, acknowledge the inherent limits of regulation, and refrain either from picking winners and losers in the marketplace or from preemptively intervening in the absence of solid evidence of market failure and consumer harm. Notably, the market-failure approach assumes that government activity should be limited to the minimal amount of intervention sufficient to correct for specific failures.
Further, interventions to correct market failures should neither require nor assume a particular technology. This would ensure much-needed flexibility to adapt the rules to rapidly changing realities, thus avoiding early obsolescence. It would also avoid the weaponization of regulation to protect incumbents’ market position by freezing investments and hindering the development of new technologies. In sum, the principles of minimal and technologically neutral intervention reflect a light-touch approach of regulatory self-restraint, with awareness that the market is generally better suited to promote innovation and that regulation scores poorly on dealing with the unexpected.
The EU’s net-neutrality rules departed from the principles of self-restraint and technological neutrality. Despite the fact that there was no discernible evidence of a market failure, EU policymakers chose to interfere with the management of internet traffic. Moreover, they did so by imposing an outright ban on common marketplace practices whose effects are at least ambiguous, and hence deserving of case-by-case assessment. As a result, net neutrality picked winners (OTTs) and losers (ISPs). At the time, academics and other experts warned against the adoption of rigid regulation, which by definition cannot aspire to be future-proof and is apt to capture the dynamics of industries characterized by rapid innovation.
Indeed, net neutrality did not anticipate the rise of OTT services. A fascinating slogan has apparently proven to be more influential than economic principles and reality. And now, “fair share” advocates want the EU to step into the breach created by net-neutrality regulation and impose further (likely inefficient) levies on Big Tech. The more rational course would be to reconsider the nature of net neutrality’s non-discrimination principles in the first place. Alas, the “fair share” proposal in fact shares several features with net-neutrality regulation, demonstrating that, rather than learn from previous mistakes, European institutions are ready to repeat them. In particular, the proposal at issue does not square with economics.
Indeed, the economic justification for the regulatory intervention is missing, as there is no evidence of a market failure to address. Quite the opposite, according to BEREC. The current model has fostered innovation, growth in internet connectivity, and the development of a vast array of content and applications. In other words, it has generated significant benefits for end users. The increase in traffic volume has not altered this fundamental reality and the IP-interconnection ecosystem largely remains highly competitive. At the same time, there is no evidence of free riding by CAPs along the value chain. As a result, the adoption of a sending-party-network-pays model would represent an unwarranted threat to the internet ecosystem that would generate costs with little or no countervailing benefits.
It is even questionable whether increases in internet traffic have resulted in higher costs for the telcos, who also benefit from the demand for broadband access that has been driven by the success of OTTs’ content and services. More generally, it is not clear how punishing the success of some OTTs would promote investment and innovation in the broadband market.
Further, rather than abiding by the principle of minimal intervention, the proposal would interfere with market dynamics by substituting a direct-compensation mechanism for private negotiations. The justification advanced for such an invasive intervention is the alleged asymmetry of the telcos’ bargaining position vis-à-vis large OTTs. The assertion is that OTTs enjoy this disproportionate bargaining position because of their market power and an uneven regulatory playing field. Leaving aside the inherent knowledge problem in a central regulator deciding how dynamic data flows should be valued, this explanation is at odds with the primary assumption of net neutrality—that the telcos play a gatekeeper role because of their control of access to the internet. In reality, both Big Tech and the ISPs are sufficiently competent parties that they should be able to negotiate mutually beneficial business terms among themselves.
If telcos face an uneven regulatory playing field, it is precisely because of net neutrality, which limits their ability to monetize their networks by discriminating among content and applications. Rather than acknowledge that interfering with market forces was the original mistake and that it is therefore time to restore private parties’ ability to freely negotiate the terms for content delivery, EU policymakers once again choose to blame the market.
If we acknowledge that internet traffic is generated by consumers (rather than by OTTs), payments into a fund managed by the European Commission would have the same welfare implications as direct payments. Given that everyone benefits from the internet, if there is a policy issue regarding financing the next generation of telecommunications infrastructure, it makes more sense for that to be financed out of a fund born through general taxation.
The proposed tax on Big Tech has been framed as ensuring that they pay their “fair share” of network costs. But fairness is in the eye of the beholder. The term is so vague that it inherently grants policymakers greater discretion and room for intervention, all in the name of a purportedly noble cause. Unfortunately, regulations that aren’t supported by market-failure framework are doomed to be captured by private interests. From this perspective, the “fair share” proposal is, indeed, consistent with public-choice theories of regulation that regard it as a rent-seeking device to benefit a small group of incumbents at the expense of rivals and consumers.
According to an old saying, history tends to repeat itself. This result is avoidable only if we learn from our mistakes. Looking at the “fair share” debate, European institutions appear condemned to repeat the past.
When it comes to technology and innovation, Europe systematically lags behind the United States and China. In the best-case scenario, it is catching up, but there is a significant gap to close. This picture is captured by various proxies of technological progress, such as the number of patents, the amount of R&D expenditure, the amount of private investment in artificial intelligence, the location of so-called “unicorn” firms, and the number of leading research institutions in high-tech fields.
There is another digital-economy scoreboard, however, on which Europe is the clear frontrunner. Namely, Europe celebrates its position as the leading regulator of digital markets. Indeed, in less than a decade, Europe has delivered the GDPR, the DMA, the DSA, and countless data-sharing initiatives. Indeed, it would appear that regulation is at least a partial cause of the EU’s poor results in the digital economy. After all, EU policymakers’ primary concern should be to ensure that the regulatory framework is fit for purpose. But over the past decade, when the expected results didn’t arise or when there were unintended consequences, rather than question the treatment, EU policymakers routinely have suggested increasing the dosage.
Against this background, the idea of introducing a tax on CAPs to boost investments in the next generation of telecommunications infrastructure could be just considered another piece of the jigsaw.
However, it is worth remembering that the diminished bargaining position that telcos have vis-à-vis online platforms is the result of another EU regulation. Indeed, without the net-neutrality ban on paid prioritization, telcos would have been free to negotiate differentiated terms for the delivery of OTTs’ content and services. OTTs could have been charged according to bandwidth usage, through side payments for setting up optimized network nodes, or through any number of other mutually beneficial business arrangements.
Further, the proposal contradicts the central premise of net neutrality, which was that broadband providers’ position as internet gatekeepers threatens OTTs and end users. But rather than acknowledge the mistakes of that earlier unnecessary and myopic intervention, the EU is supporting another shortsighted initiative that would be at odds with the economic rationale and the legal provisions of current internet regulation.
Again, as BEREC stated in 2012, the internet “has developed well without regulatory intervention, through stakeholders’ coordination in the free market. Its ability to evolve over time and self-adapt has been key to its growth and success.” More recently, this message has been reiterated, emphasizing that “[t]he internet’s ability to self-adapt has been and still is essential for its success and its innovative capability.”
There was no evidence of market failure to justify net neutrality, and there isn’t a market failure to justify imposing a “fair share” tax for network costs. Therefore, like net-neutrality anti-discrimination rules, mandating some large online platforms to compensate network operators with a usage fee would be a solution that wouldn’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.
The “fair share” proposal also reflects another pattern of recent EU industrial policy already seen in the audiovisual and publishing industries. As the digital revolution challenges existing business models, thus requiring a radical transformation of entire economic sectors, some incumbents suffer in adapting to the new environment, which requires facing new rivals but also taking advantages of new opportunities. This is part of the natural evolution of the market, where the disruptive force of innovation is generally welcome.
The EU is, instead, apparently concerned about the welfare of some legacy incumbents, especially if they are EU-born companies. As a result, market dynamics are once again threatened by regulatory interventions that impose financial obligations on successful online (and largely foreign) players. Such protectionist initiatives are at odds with the fundamental principle of competitive neutrality, according to which governments actions should ensure that all enterprises face a level playing field, irrespective of factors such as their ownership, location, or legal form. Moreover, they have already proven to be an ineffective means to help companies in reinventing themselves and filling their competitive gap.
In sum, the EU not only assumes that it could lead and deliver innovation through regulation, but also that an industry’s digital transformation could be achieved by subsidizing legacy homegrown companies with welfare transfers from successful foreign players.
Such a vision does not live up to the ambitious goals of the 2030 Digital Decade. Insofar as Europe will be a place where innovation is regulated, rather than invented, there will be no chance to reverse its technological decline and recover digital leadership. Taxing Big Tech will not make Europe great again.
 Thierry Breton, Getting Europe Ready for the Next Generation of Connectivity Infrastructure, European Commission (Feb. 6, 2023), https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_23_623.
 See Press release, Commission Presents New Initiatives, Laying the Ground for the Transformation of the Connectivity Sector in the EU, European Commission (Feb. 23, 2023), https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_23_985.
 Exploratory Consultation – The Future of the Electronic Communications Sector and Its Infrastructure, European Commission (Feb. 23, 2023), https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/consultations/future-electronic-communications-sector-and-its-infrastructure (paras. 2.1 and 2.3, quantifying investment needs until 2030 of about 174 billion euros).
 Decision (EU) 2022/2481 of the European Parliament and of the Council Establishing the Digital Decade Policy Programme 2030 (Dec. 14, 2022), OJ L 323/4; see also, 2030 Digital Compass: The European Way for the Digital Decade, European Commission (Jan. 26, 2023), COM/2021/118 final.
 Breton, supra note 1; see European Commission, supra note 3, para 2.3, reporting that “some European providers of electronic communication networks and services, especially incumbents, claim that they suffer from a decreasing market valuation and lower return on investment, especially when compared to companies in the US.” The European Commission also mentioned that telcos’ claims regarding declining margins and rising costs are stem from current uncertainties (including high inflation, rising interest rates, and geopolitical tensions) that have led capital markets to focus on assets with better short-term returns and profitability and to prefer solutions that protect them from demand risk.
 This was also the opinion expressed by the German secretary at the Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV); see Christian Zentner, Kritik an Geplanter „Zwangsabgabe“ für Netflix und Co, Bundestag (March 2, 2023), https://www.bundestag.de/presse/hib/kurzmeldungen-936322 (finding the questionnaire to be “slightly tendentious”).
 Carlos Rodri?guez Cocina, You Have Not Seen This Movie Before: Fair Share Is Not a Remake, Telefónica (March 10, 2023), https://www.telefonica.com/en/communication-room/blog/you-have-not-seen-this-movie-before-fair-share-is-not-a-remake.
 Europe’s Internet Ecosystem: Socio-Economic Benefits of a Fairer Balance Between Tech Giants and Telecom Operators, Axon Partners Group Consulting (May 11, 2022), https://axonpartnersgroup.com/europes-internet-ecosystem-socio-economic-benefits-of-a-fairer-balance-between-tech-giants-and-telecom-operators (report prepared for the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association); Estimating OTT Traffic-Related Costs on European Telecommunications Networks, Frontier Economics (April 7, 2022), available at https://www.telekom.com/resource/blob/1003588/384180d6e69de08dd368cb0a9febf646/dl-frontier- g4-ott-report-stc-data.pdf (report for Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, and Vodafone); see also, European Commission, supra note 3, Section 4 (describing the phenomenon as a “paradox” between increasing volumes of data on the infrastructures and alleged decreasing returns and appetite to invest in network infrastructure).
 European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for the Digital Decade, European Commission (2022), 28 final, 3.
 Alan Burkitt-Gray, Vestager Calls for EU to Centralise and Consolidate Telecoms, Capacity (Jan. 31, 2023) https://www.capacitymedia.com/article/2b7xs7payiktkefkh1hj4/news/vestager-calls-for-eu-to-centralise-and-consolidate-telecoms; see also, Breton, supra note 1.
 Supra note 4.
 See, CEO Statement on the Role of Connectivity in Addressing Current EU Challenges (Sep. 26, 2022), available at https://etno.eu//downloads/news/ceo%20statement_sept.2022_26.9.pdf; see also, United Appeal of the Four Major European Telecommunications Companies (Feb. 14, 2022), https://www.telekom.com/en/company/details/united-appeal-of-the-four-major-european-telecommunications-companies-646166.
 Axon, supra note 8; see also, 2023 Global Internet Phenomena Report, Sandvine (Jan. 2023) https://www.sandvine.com/global-internet-phenomena-report-2023-download?submissionGuid=7b66978f-d664-4f10-b50b-28a48700788f.
 Frontier Economics, supra note 8.
 United Appeal, supra note 13.
 Axon, supra note 8.
 Regulation (EU) 2022/1925 on Contestable and Fair Markets in the Digital Sector and Amending Directives (EU) 2019/1937 and (EU) 2020/1828 (Digital Markets Act), (2022) OJ L 265/1; Regulation (EU) 2022/2065 on a Single Market for Digital Services and Amending Directive 2000/31/EC (Digital Services Act), (2022) OJ L 277/1.
 Axon, supra note 8, 18.
 See, e.g., Doing Our Part: How Google’s Network Helps Internet Content Reach Users, Google (Apr. 20, 2022) https://cloud.google.com/blog/products/infrastructure/google-network-infrastructure-investments; Network Fee Proposals Are Based on a False Premise, Meta (Mar. 23, 2023), https://about.fb.com/news/2023/03/network-fee-proposals-are-based-on-a-false-premise.
 BEREC’s Comments on the ETNO Proposal For ITU/WCIT Or Similar Initiatives Along These Lines, BoR(12) 120, Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (2012), 3; Report on IP-Interconnection Practices in the Context of Net Neutrality, BoR (17) 184, Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (2017), (finding the internet-protocol-interconnection market to be competitive); Neelie Kroes, Adapt or Die: What I Would Do If I Ran a Telecom Company (Oct. 1, 2014), https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/de/SPEECH_14_647 (arguing that OTTs are driving digital demand: “[EU homes] are demanding greater and greater bandwidth, faster and faster speeds, and are prepared to pay for it. But how many of them would do that if there were no over the top services? If there were no Facebook, no YouTube, no Netflix, no Spotify?”); see also, Proposals for a Levy on Online Content Application Providers to Fund Network Operators. An Economic Assessment Prepared for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, Oxera (Feb. 27, 2023), 19, available at https://open.overheid.nl/documenten/ronl-8a56ac18a98a337315377fe38ac0041eb0dbe906/pdf, (noting that the cause of the traffic is the consumer’s initial request rather than the CAP’s fulfilment of that request).
 BEREC 2012, supra note 22, 4; see also, Oxera, supra note 22, 14 (arguing that there is no clear evidence that the absence of charging CAPs means that telcos are unable to raise revenues and cover their costs).
 BEREC 2012, supra note 22, 4.
 Id., 1.
 BEREC Preliminary Assessment of the Underlying Assumptions of Payments from Large CAPs to ISPs, BoR (22) 137, Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (2022), 4.
 Id., 4-5.
 Id., 7-8 (“BEREC considers in this regard the incremental costs necessary for the upgrade in capacity on a given network to handle more incoming traffic. These costs can incorporate to some extent technological upgrades as far as they are relevant for solving capacity issues. These costs have to be differentiated from the total network costs, which are mostly coverage costs.”).
 Id., 9
 Id., 11-14.
 Id., 13; see also, Plans for Charging Internet Toll by Large Telecom Companies Feared to Have Major Impact on European Consumers and Businesses, Government of the Netherlands (Feb. 27, 2023), https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/publicaties/2023/02/27/plans-for-charging-internet-toll-by-large-telecom-companies-feared-to-have-major-impact-on-european-consumers-and-businesses (arguing that “the large telecom operators seem to forget that consumers already pay for their Internet traffic, through their Internet subscription. The plea for an Internet toll actually implies that large telecom operators want to get paid twice.”).
 David Abecassis, Michael Kende, & Guniz Kama, IP Interconnection on the Internet: A European Perspective for 2022, Analysys Mason (Sep. 26, 2022), https://www.analysysmason.com/consulting-redirect/reports/ip-interconnection-european-perspective-2022; Volker Stocker & William Lehr, Regulatory Policy for Broadband: A Response to the “ETNO Report’s” Proposal for Intervention in Europe’s Internet Ecosystem, SSRN (Oct. 16, 2022), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4263096; Brian Williamson, An Internet Traffic Tax Would Harm Europe’s Digital Transformation, Communications Chambers (Jul. 2022), available at https://lisboncouncil.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/COMMUNICATIONS-CHAMBERS-Internet-Traffic-Tax-2.pdf.
 David Abecassis, Michael Kende, & Shahan Osman, The Impact of Tech Companies’ Network Investment on the Economics of Broadband ISPs, Analysys Mason (Oct. 12, 2022), https://www.analysysmason.com/consulting-redirect/reports/internet-content-application-providers-infrastructure-investment-2022.
 See, e.g., Connectivity Infrastructure and the Open Internet, BEUC: The European Consumer Organisation (Sep. 16, 2022), available at https://www.beuc.eu/sites/default/files/2022-09/BEUC-X-2022-096_Connectivity_Infrastructure-and-the_open_internet.pdf; Bijal Sanghani, Fair Share Debate and Potential Impact of SPNP on European IXPs and Internet Ecosystem, European Internet Exchange Association (Jan. 3, 2023), available at https://www.euro-ix.net/media/filer_public/1a/e4/1ae40d86-95ea-460a-920d-3b335c2439d4/spnp_impact_on_ixps_-_final.pdf.
 Karl-Heinz Neumann, et al., Competitive Conditions on Transit and Peering Markets, WIK-Consult (Feb. 28, 2022), available at https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/EN/Areas/Telecommunications/Companies/Digitisation/Peering/download.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=1.
 Id., 36-38; see also Oxera, supra note 22, 28—33 (arguing that implementation of such a scheme would entail significant transaction and regulatory costs, as the regulator would be required to fulfil such recurring tasks as traffic analysis and verification, dispute settlement, and coordination with companies and other authorities).
 Government of the Netherlands, supra note 31; see also, Zentner, supra note 6 (stating that the telecommunications companies’ argument that such a levy would provide them with more money for network expansion does not hold water).
 Government of the Netherlands, supra note 31; Oxera, supra note 22 (predicting that only a limited portion of the additional revenue stream to telecom operators would be passed on to the internet subscribers in the form of slightly lower subscription fees, and that this would be offset by price increases from online services for subscriptions to, e.g., Spotify or Netflix more expensive).
 Call for Release of BCRD Revision – Refusal of Merge with Fair Share Debate, Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands (May 12, 2022), available at https://www.permanentrepresentations.nl/binaries/nlatio/documenten/publications/2022/12/05/call-for-release-of-bcrd-revision—refusal-of-merge-with-fair-share-debate/Call+for+release+of+BCRD+revision+-+Refusal+of+merge+with+fair+share+debate_def.pdf.
 See Breton, supra note 1 (arguing that the burden of financing connectivity infrastructure should not rest solely on the shoulders of member states or the EU budget).
 See Tobias Kretschmer, In Pursuit of Fairness? Infrastructure Investment in Digital Markets, SSRN (Sep. 20, 2022), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4230863 (arguing that a transfer from large OTTs to telcos would be equivalent to a tax on success and that this would appear to arbitrarily target a group of largely U.S.-based firms while letting at least partly European newcomers and/or smaller firms enjoy the same externalities at no cost).
 Directive 2010/13/EU on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the provision of audiovisual media services (Audiovisual Media Services Directive),  OJ L 95/1, Recitals 4 and 12.
 Directive (EU) 2018/1808 amending Directive 2010/13/EU on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the provision of audiovisual media services (Audiovisual Media Services Directive) in view of changing market realities,  OJ L 303/69.
 Id., Recital 35 and Article 13(1).
 Id., Recital 36 and Article 13 (2).
 For analysis of the EU market, see David Graham, et al., Study on the Promotion of European Works in Audiovisual Media Services, Attentional, KEA European Affairs, and Valdani Vicari & Associati (Aug. 28, 2020), https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/library/study-promotion-european-works.
 See Sally Broughton Micova, The Audiovisual Media Services Directive: Balancing Liberalisation and Protection, E. Brogi & P.L. Parcu (eds.), Research Handbook on EU Media Law and Policy, Edward Elgar Publishing (2020), 264 (arguing that the AVMS Directive is a unique blend of the liberal-market approach typical of the EU’s single market and classic protectionism, stemming from a history of concern that American content and media services would dominate European screens, threatening its cultures and industries).
 Id.; see also Joe?lle Farchy, Gre?goire Bideau, & Steven Tallec, Content Quotas and Prominence on VOD Services: New Challenges for European Audiovisual Regulators, 28 Int. J. Cult. Policy 419 (2022), (noting that the objective of cultural diversity contains a great ambiguity and that “[b]eyond the incantatory discourse on the expected benefits of cultural diversity, the notion is in fact complex, and refers to multiple, sometimes contradictory aspects.”).
 On the dispute between news publishers and digital platforms, see Giuseppe Colangelo, Enforcing Copyright Through Antitrust? The Strange Case of News Publishers Against Digital Platforms, 10 J. Antitrust Enforc. 133 (May 10, 2021); Giuseppe Colangelo & Valerio Torti, Copyright, Online News Publishing and Aggregators: A Law and Economics Analysis of the EU Reform, 27 Int. J. Law Inf. Technol. 75 (Jan. 11, 2019).
 Directive (EU) 2019/790 of 17 April 2019 on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market and amending Directives 96/9/EC and 2001/29/EC,  OJ L 130/92, Article 15.
 Id., Recitals 54 and 55.
 See, e.g., The Evolution of News and the Internet, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Jun. 11, 2010), available at https://www.oecd.org/sti/ieconomy/45559596.pdf; Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism, U.S. Federal Trade Commission (Jun. 2010), available at https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/public_events/how-will-journalism-survive-internet-age/new-staff-discussion.pdf; Bertin Martens, et al., The Digital Transformation of News Media and the Rise of Disinformation and Fake News – An Economic Perspective, Joint Research Center (Apr. 25, 2018), available at https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2018-04/jrc111529.pdf; Martin Senftleben, et al., New Rights or New Business Models? An Inquiry into the Future of Publishing in the Digital Era, 48 IIC 538 (2017).
 Colangelo-Torti, supra note 49.
 Id., 90.
 Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 laying down measures concerning open internet access and amending Directive 2002/22/EC on universal service and users’ rights relating to electronic communications networks and services and Regulation (EU) No 531/2012 on roaming on public mobile communications networks within the Union, (2015) OJ L 310/1.
 European Commission, supra note 2.
 Government of the Netherlands, supra note 31; BEREC, supra note 26, 5.
 Restoring Internet Freedom Order, Federal Communications Commission (2018) 33 FCC Rcd 311.
 Ajit Pai, FCC Releases Restoring Internet Freedom Order, Federal Communications Commission (Jan. 4, 2018) 1, https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-releases-restoring-internet-freedom-order/pai-statement.
 Open Internet Order, Federal Communications Commission (2015), 30 FCC Rcd 5601.
 Id., 5625-26.
 Regulation (EU) 2015/2120, supra note 55, Recital 1.
 Id., Recital 3.
 See, e.g., Barbara van Schewick, Towards an Economic Framework for Network Neutrality Regulation, 5 JTHTL 329, (2006)
 See, e.g., Michael L. Katz, Wither U.S. Net Neutrality Regulation?, 50 Rev. Ind. Organ. 441 (2017), (finding substantial tension between the regulation and the objective of promoting consumer choice and sovereignty, and noting that the internet has never been, and is not designed to be, neutral); Christopher S. Yoo, Beyond Network Neutrality, 19 JOLT 1 (2005), (considering network neutrality a misnomer that may reinforce sources of market failure in the last mile and dampen incentives to invest in alternative network capacity) Wolfgang Briglauer, et al., Net neutrality and High?Speed Broadband Networks: Evidence from OECD Countries, Eur. J. Law Econ. (forthcoming), (finding empirical evidence that net-neutrality regulations exert a significant and strong negative impact on fiber investments); Marc Bourreau, Frago Kourandi, & Tommaso Valletti, Net Neutrality with Competing Internet Platforms, 63 J Ind Econ 30 (2015), (noting that, in a model with competing ISPs—rather than a monopolistic market structure—a switch from the net-neutrality regime to the alternative discriminatory regime would be bene?cial in terms of investments, innovation, and total welfare).
 See, e.g., Katz, supra note 65, 450;
Thomas W. Hazlett & Joshua D. Wright, The Effect of Regulation on Broadband Markets: Evaluating the Empirical Evidence in the FCC’s 2015 “Open Internet” Order, 50 Rev. Ind. Organ. 487 (2017); Maureen K. Ohlhausen, Antitrust Over Net Neutrality: Why We Should Take Competition in Broadband Seriously, 15 Colorado Technology Law Journal 119 (2016); Timothy J. Tardiff, Net Neutrality: Economic Evaluation of Market Developments, 11 J. Competition Law Econ. 701 (2015); Gerald R. Faulhaber, The Economics of Network Neutrality, Regulation 18 (2011-12).
 Pietro Crocioni, Net Neutrality in Europe: Desperately Seeking a Market Failure, 35 Telecomm Policy 1, (2011) 6-7; see also, Zero-Rating Practices in Broadband Markets, DotEcon, Aetha Consulting, and Oswell and Vahida, (Feb. 2017), available at https://ec.europa.eu/competition/publications/reports/kd0217687enn.pdf.
 See Crocioni, supra note 67 (arguing that even a monopolist ISP may benefit from valuable complements and be better off charging a higher price for internet access, instead of trying to force customers onto its own services); see also Ohlhausen, supra note 66; Faulhaber, supra note 66.
 Shane Greenstein, Martin Peitz, & Tommaso Valletti, Net Neutrality: A Fast Lane to Understanding the Trade-offs, 30 JEP 127 (2016); see also Sébastien Broos & Axel Gautier, The Exclusion of Competing One-Way Essential Complements: Implications for Net Neutrality, 52 Int. J. Ind. Organ. 358 (2017), (showing that, even in monopoly and duopoly, imposing net neutrality does not always improve welfare).
 Joshua Gans & Michael L. Katz, Weak Versus Strong Net Neutrality: Corrections and Extensions, 50 J. Regul. Econ. 99 (2016); Martin Peitz & F. Schuett, Net Neutrality and Inflation of Traffic, 46 Int. J. Ind. Organ. 16 (2016).
 See, e.g., A. Douglas Melamed & Andrew W. Chang, What Thinking About Antitrust Law Can Tell Us About Net Neutrality, 15 Colorado Technology Law Journal 93 (2016); Ohlhausen, supra note 66.
 A good example is provided by the treatment of zero-rating offers. For an analysis, see Giuseppe Colangelo & Valerio Torti, Offering Zero-Rated Content in the Shadow of Net Neutrality, 5 Market and Competition Law Review 141 (2021); see also Pablo Iba?n?ez Colomo, Future-Proof Regulation Against the Test of Time: The Evolution of European Telecommunications Regulation, 42 Oxf. J. Leg. Stud. 1170 (2022), 1187-188 (noting that the very practices that are problematic from a net-neutrality perspective are healthy expressions of competitive markets; hence, absent a finding of significant market power, there is no support for a preemptive ban of vertical integration, exclusivity agreements, and other practices that have an equivalent object and/or effect: these practices are routinely examined by competition authorities and careful case-by-case evaluation has long been deemed appropriate for them).
 See, e.g., Katz, supra note 65; Ohlhausen, supra note 66; Joshua D. Wright, Net Neutrality: Is Antitrust Law More Effective than Regulation in Protecting Consumers and Innovation?, U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law (Jun. 20, 2014), https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/prepared-statement-commissioner-joshua-d-wright-net-neutrality-antitrust-law-more-effective; Christopher S. Yoo, What Can Antitrust Contribute to the Network Neutrality Debate?, 1 Int. J. Commun. 493 (2007).
 Katz, supra note 65, 454.
 Irene Comeig, Klaudijo Klaser, & Luci?a D. Pinar, The Paradox of (Inter)net Neutrality: An Experiment on Ex-Ante Antitrust Regulation, 175 Technol Forecast Soc Change 121405. (2022).
 Ohlhausen, supra note 66, 137.
 See Justin (Gus) Hurwitz, et al., Amicus Curiae Brief in U.S. Telecom Association et al. v. FTC, International Center for Law & Economics (Aug. 6, 2015), available at http://laweconcenter.org/images/articles/icle_oio_amicus_filed.pdf.
 Geoffrey Manne, et al., Policy Comments in the Matter of Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet, International Center for Law & Economics and TechFreedom (Jul. 17, 2014), available at https://laweconcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/icle-tf_nn_policy_comments.pdf.
 Richard Baldwin, Martin Cave, & Martin Lodge, Understanding Regulation, Oxford University Press (2012).
 William J. Baumol, Welfare Economics and the Theory of the State, Harvard University Press (1952).
 Regulation and Competition. A Review of the Evidence, UK Competition and Markets Authority (2020), https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulation-and-competition-a-review-of-the-evidence, paras. 1.3 and 2.4,.
 Colomo, supra note 72.
 See Ajit Pai, Remarks at the 18th Global Symposium for Regulators, Federal Communications Commission (Jul. 10, 2018), https://www.fcc.gov/document/chairman-pai-remarks-global-symposium-regulators-geneva; Maureen K. Ohlhausen, Regulatory Humility in Practice, Federal Trade Commission (Apr. 1, 2015), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_statements/635811/150401aeihumilitypractice.pdf.
 Baldwin, Cave, & Lodge, supra note 79.
 See also Colomo, supra note 72.
 See, e.g., Melamed & Chang, supra note 71; Ohlhausen, supra note 66; Bruce M. Owen, Net Neutrality: Is Antitrust Law More Effective than Regulation in Protecting Consumers and Innovation?, U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law (Jul. 8, 2014), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2463823.
 BEREC, supra note 26.
 See also Oxera, supra note 22, 34 (arguing that the fund would still lead to a transfer of money from one group to another and would not lead to substantially lower transaction costs).
 Giuseppe Colangelo, In Fairness We (Should Not) Trust. The Duplicity of the EU Competition Policy Mantra in Digital Markets, The Antitrust Bulletin (forthcoming).
 Paul Crampton, Striking the Right Balance Between Competition and Regulation: The Key Is Learning from Our Mistakes, APEC-OECD Co-operative Initiative on Regulatory Reform (Oct. 2002), available at https://www.oecd.org/regreform/2503205.pdf.
 For useful information about several key innovation indicators, such as the value of venture-capital deals, the number of science and technology clusters, and government budget allocations for research and development, see, Global Innovation Index 2022, World Intellectual Property Organization, https://www.wipo.int/global_innovation_index/en/2022; see also Riccardo Righi, et al., AI Watch Index 2021, Joint Research Centre (Mar. 20, 2022), https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC128744.
 See Margrethe Vestager, Tearing Down Big Tech’s Walls, Project Syndicate (Mar. 9, 2023), https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/eu-big-tech-legislation-digital-services-markets-by-margrethe-vestager-2023-03 (“We are proud that Europe has become the cradle of tech regulation globally.”).
 BEREC, supra note 22, 1.
 BEREC, supra note 26, 3.
 Ajit Pai, The FCC and Internet Regulation: A First-year Report Card, Federal Communications Commission (Feb. 26, 2016) https://www.fcc.gov/document/commissioner-pai-remarks-internet-regulation-first-year-report-card.
 See, Recommendation of the Council on Competitive Neutrality, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (May 30, 2021), https://legalinstruments.oecd.org/en/instruments/OECD-LEGAL-0462.
Scholarship Abstract Although most studies of major communications reform legislation focus on the merits of their substantive provisions, analyzing the political dynamics behind the legislation can . . .
Although most studies of major communications reform legislation focus on the merits of their substantive provisions, analyzing the political dynamics behind the legislation can yield important insights. An examination of the tradeoffs that led the major industry segments to support the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the “1996 Act”) provides a useful illustration of a political bargain. Analyzing the current context identifies seven components that could form the basis for the next communications statute: (1) universal service; (2) pole attachments; (3) privacy; (4) intermediary immunity; (5) net neutrality; (6) spectrum policy; and (7) antitrust reform. Assessing where industry interests overlap and diverge and the ways that the political environment can hinder passing reform legislation provides insights into how these components might combine to support the enactment of the next Telecommunications Act of 1996.
ICLE White Paper Examining whether self-preferencing should be considered a new standalone offense under European competition law.
Whether self-preferencing is inherently anticompetitive has emerged as perhaps the core question in competition policy for digital markets. Large online platforms who act as gatekeepers of their ecosystems and engage in dual-mode intermediation have been accused of taking advantage of these hybrid business models to grant preferential treatment to their own products and services. In Europe, courts and competition authorities have advanced new antitrust theories of harm that target such practices, as have various legislative initiatives around the world. In the aftermath of the European General Court’s decision in Google Shopping, however, it is important to weigh the risk that labeling self-preferencing as per se anticompetitive may merely allow antitrust enforcers to bypass the legal standards and evidentiary burdens typically required to prove anticompetitive behavior. This paper investigates whether and to what extent self-preferencing should be considered a new standalone offense under European competition law.
In recent years, widespread concern has emerged that large digital platforms may misuse their market positions by giving preferential treatment to their own products and services. One fear is that, by engaging in self-preferencing, so-called “Big Tech” firms may be able not only to entrench their power in core markets, but also to extend it into associated markets.1F Notably, by controlling ecosystems of integrated complementary products and services—which usually represent important gateways for business users to reach end users—dominant platforms may enjoy a strategic market status that allows them to exercise bottleneck power. As the argument goes, by acting as gatekeepers and regulators within their ecosystems, these platforms represent unavoidable trading partners and may pick winners and losers in the marketplace.
Moreover, digital platforms often serve a dual role, acting as both an intermediary and a trader operating on the platform. Hence, they may be tempted to influence results in their own favor (so-called “biased intermediation”). Indeed, once an intermediation platform is also active in complementors’ markets, it loses its status of neutrality and risks of discrimination against rivals may arise because of potential conflict of interests. Therefore, quoting a slogan delivered by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primary campaign: “you get to be the umpire or you get to have a team in the game—but you don’t get to do both at the same time.”2F European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager has used a similar sporting analogy—arguing that a platform cannot be both a player who competes against rivals in the downstream market and, at the same time, the upstream referee who determines the conditions of that competition.3F
In short, self-preferencing may allow large digital platforms to adopt a leveraging strategy to pursue a twofold anticompetitive effect—that is, excluding or impeding rivals from competing with the platform (defensive leveraging) and extending their market power into associated markets (offensive leveraging). The latter scenario may take the form of envelopment, in which a platform attempts to both exclude rivals and facilitate its own entry into a target market by tying the core functionalities of its platform to the services offered in that market.4F
The legislative initiatives that have been undertaken around the world posit that, to ensure a level playing field, digital gatekeepers must be prevented from engaging in various forms of self-preferencing. The European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), for example, prohibits gatekeepers from: engaging in any form of self-preferencing in ranking services and products offered by the platform itself; using any non-publicly available data generated through activities by business users to compete with those users on the platform; preventing the removal of preinstalled applications; giving preferential access to hardware, operating-system, or software features to their own ancillary services; and refusing to grant “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) access to app stores, search engines, and social-networking services.5F The United Kingdom’s proposed regulatory regime for digital markets, which imagines the adoption of firm-specific codes of conduct for online platforms with “strategic market status,” includes self-preferencing as an example of exclusionary behavior that large digital platforms sometimes engage in when they exert control over an ecosystem.6F The German Digitalization Act likewise includes a ban on platforms favoring their own offers when they mediate access to supply and sales markets, particularly in cases where they present their own offers in a more favorable manner, exclusively pre-install them on devices, or integrate them in any other way.7F
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) would go even further. The bill would declare it unlawful to engage in conduct that would “unfairly preference the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of another business user on the covered platform in a manner that would materially harm competition on the covered platform.”8F Accordingly, for example, Google would be prevented from launching only Google Maps in response to a query for restaurants, or from placing Google services at the top of a search-results page unless it is accompanied by all possible rival services. Similarly, Amazon would be constrained from showcasing its branded products or favoring third-party products that use its fulfillment service, while Apple would be banned from supplying prominent app-search results for its own apps or even from preinstalling its own apps.9F
These provisions and others like them would essentially treat digital platforms as common carriers, and therefore subject them to a neutrality regime and utilities-style regulation. In some markets, lawmakers have proposed even more stringent reforms designed to reduce digital platforms’ potential bottleneck and intermediation power, and to prevent conflicts of interest, such as requirements that intermediation and operating units be structurally separated, restrictions on lines of business, and imposed duties to deal.10F
In addition to these legislative initiatives, self-preferencing has also emerged as a theory of harm before European courts and antitrust authorities. After all, much of the behavior prohibited explicitly in the DMA initially attracted attention as part of antitrust investigations. In particular, the ban against self-preferencing appears to have been informed by the European Commission’s decision in the Google Shopping case, in which Google was fined for having systematically demoted the results of competing comparison-shopping products on its search results pages, while having granted prominent placement to its own comparison-shopping service.11F The fact that the decision came following a protracted seven-year investigation has been cited as evidence of the need for an ex ante prohibition of such practices, thus removing the annoying hurdles and burdens posed by standard antitrust analysis.
The European General Court recently upheld the Commission’s decision,12F although it narrowed the original decision’s scope by focusing on the context in which the practice occurred. Rather than articulating a legal test for a new antitrust offense, the Court applied fact-specific criteria to examine the potential for discrimination by a search engine. This approach notably differs from defining self-preferencing as a standalone abuse, as has been supported by the European Commission and some national competition authorities (NCAs).13F
The DMA, it should be noted, will not displace Europe antitrust rules;14F rather, the law will be implemented alongside them. This heightens the potential for interpretative uncertainty regarding the degree to which self-preferencing will or ought to be treated, in practice, as an infringement of competition law. This paper therefore sets out to investigate whether, in the aftermath of the Google Shopping ruling, self-preferencing by digital platforms has peculiar features that justify its consideration as a new theory of harm.
Indeed, one of the primary challenges posed by treating self-preferencing as a competitive harm, from a competition-law perspective, is the lack of an obvious limiting principle.15F Notably, recent European case law suggests that, rather than a standalone theory of harm, self-preferencing is a catch-all category that includes various practices already addressed by antitrust rules. The risk is that labeling self-preferencing as per se anticompetitive would merely provide antitrust authorities with the opportunity to elide the application of legal standards and evidentiary burdens traditionally required to prove anticompetitive behavior.
This paper calls for appreciation of the continuing wisdom of antitrust orthodoxy against the prevailing zeitgeist, arguing that many of the perceived limits of antitrust actually represent its virtues.16F Indeed, the goal of competition law ought not be to satisfy urgent policy objectives. Rather, antitrust is about limiting principles, even where that means it is unpopular.17F
The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. Section II provides an overview of the relevant traditional antitrust theories of harm and emerging case law to analyze whether and to what extent self-preferencing could be considered a new standalone offense in EU competition law. Section III investigates whether platform neutrality more generally belongs to the scope of competition law, according to its legal foundations and settled principles. Section IV concludes.
The debate over self-preferencing revolves around its novelty. Antitrust concerns are raised regarding the preferential treatment granted by a vertically integrated dominant firm to its own products and services because of the firm’s dual role as both host and competitor. This is of particular interest when such potential conflicts of interest may result in the leveraging of market power in adjacent lines of business in ways capable of producing exclusionary effects.
From this perspective, competitive risks associated with self-preferencing do not appear significantly different from those that emerge in any scenario of vertical integration. Vertical integration is, indeed, often procompetitive, specifically because it can be used to improve efficiency and reduce transaction costs. Furthermore, while there is some dispute as to whether a dominant firm is required to ensure a level playing field by treating rivals in the same way as it does its own businesses, competition law is already equipped with tools to forbid practices that pursue discriminatory leveraging strategies. The emergence of digital platforms does not, in and of itself, challenge antitrust enforcement. To investigate whether self-preferencing should be considered a new standalone offense, it is necessary to first analyze the scope of relevant antitrust prohibitions and to evaluate the peculiar features of self-preferencing, as illustrated by courts and antitrust authorities that have recently sanctioned this behavior.
Although predatory pricing and loyalty rebates may sometimes lead a firm to favor its own downstream services, our attention will be devoted to those practices that appear closer to self-preferencing: namely, refusal to deal, tying, bundling and mixed bundling, margin squeezes, and discrimination. In particular, the last of these represents the most obviously relevant comparison, as the favorable treatment a platform grants to its own products and services entails discriminatory treatment of rivals.
Under European competition law’s non-discrimination provisions, preferential treatment may be investigated when a vertically integrated firm applies to rivals (primary line injury) or other partners (secondary line injury) more onerous conditions than it applies to its own downstream businesses.18F The second-degree price discrimination is mainly addressed by Article 102(c) TFEU, which establishes the abusive character of applying dissimilar conditions to equivalent transactions with trading parties, thereby placing them at a competitive disadvantage. It has been noted that the provision may be considered a straightforward legal basis for a theory of self-preferencing, as shown by the case law that has predominantly applied the provision in settings where a vertically integrated dominant firm sought to advantage its downstream operations at the expense of rivals.19F
In the aftermath of the MEO ruling and following the effects-based approach affirmed in Intel,20F discrimination is not, in itself, problematic from the point of view of competition law.21F As a consequence, not every disadvantage that affects some customers of a dominant firm will amount to an anticompetitive effect; competitive disadvantages cannot be presumed. Antitrust enforcers are instead required to consider all the circumstances of the relevant case, assessing whether there is a strategy to exclude from the downstream market a trading partner that is at least as efficient as its competitors.
Self-preferencing may also take the form of tying, bundling, or mixed bundling. In the first of these, a dominant player leverages its market position in the tying product, making the purchase of the latter subject to the acceptance of another (tied) product. Bundling refers to the way products are offered and priced. In the case of pure bundling, the products are only sold jointly in fixed proportions. In mixed bundling, the products are also made available separately, but the sum of prices when sold separately is higher than the bundled price.22F
Any of these practices may lead to anticompetitive foreclosure in the tied market and, indirectly, in the tying market. The exclusion of as-efficient-competitors is key to triggering antitrust liability for competition foreclosure. Mixed bundling may be anticompetitive if the discount is so large that equally efficient competitors offering only some of the components cannot compete against the discounted bundle. With bundling, the greater the number of products on which the undertaking exerts market power, the stronger the likelihood of anticompetitive foreclosure. In the case of tying, if an insufficient number of customers would buy the tied product on its own to sustain competitors of the dominant undertaking in the tied market, the tying could lead to those customers facing higher prices. Finally, the risk of foreclosure in tying and bundling strategies is expected to be greater where the dominant player makes it last—e.g., through technical tying (i.e., designing a product in such a way that it only works properly with the tied product and not with alternatives offered by competitors).
As tying strategies can be implemented either through contractual terms or by technical means, antitrust authorities are increasingly prone to challenge platforms’ product-design decisions that favor their own products or services by limiting interoperability, thereby impeding compatibility with rival products or services.23F In Microsoft, the European General Court argued that the ubiquity of a dominant player in the tying market is likely to foreclose competition in the tied market. The Court noted that the practice of bundling a specific piece of software to an operating system through pre-installation allows the tied product “to benefit from the ubiquity of that operating system … which cannot be counterbalanced by other methods of distributing media players.”24F
Foreclosure also may arise when consumers obtain the tied product free of charge and are not prevented from obtaining rival services. In Google Android, the Commission fined Google for having engaged in a leveraging practice to preserve and strengthen its position in the search-engine market by requiring device manufacturers to preinstall Google Search and the Chrome browser as preconditions to license the Google Play app store. By locking down Android in the Google-controlled ecosystem, manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps were prevented from selling smart-mobile devices that run on versions of Android not approved by Google (so-called Android “forks”).25F According to the Commission, pre-installation can create a status quo bias, which reduces the incentives for manufacturers to pre-install competing search and browser apps, as well as the incentives for users to download such apps. The therefore affects rivals’ ability to compete effectively with Google. Despite the fact that Android is mostly distributed as open-source software, the Commission rejected both of the justifications Google put forward: that leveraging practices reflected a legitimate appropriation strategy to preserve incentives to innovate in a regime of weak appropriability26F and that fork restrictions fell under governance rules needed to protect multi-sided platforms from negative externalities (in this case, preventing software fragmentation and the potential diffusion of incompatible versions of the software).27F
Taken to its extreme, self-preferencing can result in refusals to deal,28F which explains why European policymakers have invoked the essential facilities doctrine to address such cases. The aim of the doctrine, which imposes on dominant firms a duty to deal with all who request access, is to prevent a firm with control over an essential asset from excluding rivals or from extending its monopoly into another stage of production. Because it requires sacrificing the dominant firm’s freedom of contract and right to property, however, it may weaken incentives to invest, innovate, and compete.
These refusal-to-deal infringements are, under European competition law, generally limited to “exceptional circumstances.” According to Magill, a refusal to deal may trigger an antitrust violation when: (i) access to the product or service is indispensable to a firm’s ability to do business in a market; (ii) the refusal is unjustified; (iii) the refusal excludes competition on a secondary market; and (iv), if intellectual property rights are involved, it prevents the emergence of a new product for which there is potential consumer demand.29F The IMS30F and Microsoft31F judgments substantially dismantled the third and fourth requirements, respectively, by considering the secondary-market requirement met even if that market is just potential or hypothetical, and the new product requirement satisfied even when access to the facility is necessary for rivals to develop follow-on innovation (i.e., improved products with added value).
Nonetheless, pursuant to the interpretation provided in Bronner, the requirement that a requested facility be indispensable remains in place and represents the last bulwark against the dangers of uncontrolled application of the doctrine.32F Indeed, access to an input is considered indispensable if there are no technical, legal, or even economic obstacles that would render it impossible (or even unreasonably difficult) to duplicate. To demonstrate the lack of realistic potential alternatives, a requesting firm must establish that it is not economically viable to create the resource on a scale comparable to that of the firm controlling the existing product or service.
Against this background, the recent Slovak Telekom judgment introduced a relevant novel claim that the conditions laid down in Bronner do not apply where the dominant undertaking does give access to its infrastructure but makes that access subject to unfair conditions.33F In addition, the Court of Justice (CJEU) implied that enforcers do not have to prove indispensability when access to a facility has been granted as a result of a regulatory obligation.34F The implications are particularly relevant to digital markets, as the regulatory framework established by the DMA requiring access to platforms designated as gatekeepers would exempt antitrust authorities from having to demonstrate the indispensability of those facilities.
Finally, self-preferencing may be construed as a “margin squeeze,” which EU competition law defines as a standalone abuse that undermines the condition of equality of opportunity between economic operators. The European Commission initially equated this practice to a constructive refusal to deal, noting that, instead of refusing to supply, a dominant undertaking charges a price for a product on the upstream market that would not allow even an equally efficient competitor to trade profitably in the downstream market on a lasting basis.35F The Commission therefore introduced the so-called Telefonica exceptions to categorize a specific class of cases where Bronner’s requirements would not apply. These exceptions hold that an obligation to supply cannot have negative effects on the input owner’s and/or other operators’ incentives to invest and innovate upstream.36F The CJEU has, however, gradually moved toward rejecting the concept of an implicit refusal to grant access, holding that margin squeezes should be treated as a separate theory of harm, thereby introducing an even broader exception to Bronner.
Notably, while an essential facility was involved in Deutsche Telekom I, the owner of the facility had a regulatory obligation to share and rivals’ margins were negative.37F Teliasonera found a margin squeeze in a situation where the input of the dominant undertaking was not indispensable, there was no regulatory obligation to supply, and rival firms’ margins were positive, but insufficient, as the rivals were forced to operate at artificially reduced levels of profitability.38F Telefonica39F and Slovak Telekom40F upheld the approach of considering margin squeezes as an independent form of abuse to which the criteria established in Bronner are not applicable.
Against this background, doubts about the potential to identify self-preferencing as a standalone abuse under EU law emerge from the court analysis and antitrust decisions that have been issued to date sanctioning dominant platforms for preferential treatment granted of own products and services. Indeed, recent European case law would appear to question whether self-preferencing is sufficiently novel to constitute a standalone theory of harm, given that it has been readily addressed under existing theories of harm. With the exceptions of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal41F and the Italian Competition Authority,42F courts generally do not even use the term “self-preferencing,” opting instead to label the conduct “favoring.”
The birth of self-preferencing as a standalone theory of harm is usually associated with the European Commission’s investigation of Google for having positioned and displayed, in its general search-results pages, its own comparison-shopping service more favorably than rival comparison-shopping services.43F
However, a similar issue was addressed a few months earlier by the High Court of England and Wales in the dispute between Streetmap and Google, which involved the interaction of competition between online search engines and online maps.44F Indeed, Streetmap contended that Google abused its dominant position by prominently and preferentially displaying its own related online-map product. Streetmap contended that, by visually displaying a clickable image from Google Maps (and no other map) in response to certain geographic queries (Maps OneBox) at or near the very top of its search-engine results page (SERP), and consequently relegating Streetmap to a blue link lower down the page, Google abused its dominant position in the market for online search and online search advertising.
Given the evident similarity with the Google Shopping case, Justice Roth’s analysis is worthy of examination. While Streetmap framed Google’s practice in terms of bundling or tying, and referred extensively to the European Microsoft decision, the U.K. Court held that the complaint should have been appropriately characterized as an allegation of discrimination.45F The user who sees the Maps OneBox is, indeed, under no obligation to click on it or to use Google Maps; she remains free to use any other online-mapping provider without penalty. In contrast to Microsoft, where obtaining a competing streaming-media player by downloading from the Internet was regarded by a significant number of users as more complicated than using the pre-installed Microsoft product, the Google SERP includes clickable links to other relevant online maps and users experience no difficulty in clicking on those blue links.
To establish whether Google’s conduct constituted anticompetitive foreclosure, the Court concluded that it was necessary to prove that the effects of that conduct appreciably affected competition, which cannot simply be assumed. Indeed, the Google’s introduction a Maps OneBox containing a thumbnail map was intended to improve the quality of the SERP, and hence must be evaluated as a technical efficiency46F: “The unusual and challenging feature of this case is that conduct which was pro-competitive in the market in which the undertaking is dominant is alleged to be abusive on the grounds of an alleged anti-competitive effect in a distinct market in which it is not dominant.”47F For this reason, evaluating alternative ways that Google might have made this procompetitive improvement without allegedly distorting competition in online maps played a significant role in the Court’s analysis.
If anticompetitive effects are proven, then the issue of objective justification must be considered. This requires a proportionality assessment, which is a matter of fact and degree. Hence, the question of alternatives cannot be considered only with respect to competitive impact: “Where the efficiency is a technical improvement, proportionality does not require adoption of an alternative that is much less efficient in terms of greatly increased cost, or which imposes an unreasonable burden.”48F
Following this line of reasoning, Justice Roth found that the introduction of the Maps OneBox with no shortcut hyperlinks to Streetmap (and other online maps) did not, in itself, have an appreciable effect in steering customers away from Streetmap; it therefore was not reasonably likely to give rise to anticompetitive foreclosure.49F Moreover, even if it was likely to have such an effect, Google’s conduct was objectively justified because the way that it implemented the technical efficiency—i.e., presenting a thumbnail map on the SERP—was not disproportionate.50F
The European Commission reached a different conclusion in Google Shopping. There, the Commission found that, by promoting its own comparison-shopping service in its search results and demoting those of competitors, Google engaged in a strategy of leveraging the dominance of its flagship product (i.e., the search engine) in the adjacent market for comparison-shopping services.
According to the Commission’s findings, Google’s strategy rested on two related practices: ensuring prominent placement for its own comparison-shopping service and demoting rival comparison-shopping services in its search results. Notably, while competing comparison-shopping services could appear only as generic search results—potentially subject to demotion in search listings by Google’s algorithms—Google’s own comparison-shopping service was prominently positioned, displayed in rich format, and free from the risk of demotion to the second page of search results.51F
The Commission concluded that the conduct fell outside the scope of competition on the merits, could extend Google’s dominant position in the national markets for general search services to the national markets for comparison-shopping services (offensive leveraging), would tend to protect Google’s dominance in the former (defensive leveraging).
Rather than recognizing that it was deploying a novel theory of harm, the Commission argued that Google’s conduct belonged to the well-known category of leveraging. Accordingly, there was no need to look for a new legal test, since “it is not novel to find that conduct consisting in the use of a dominant position on one market to extend that dominant position to one or more adjacent markets can constitute an abuse.”52F The Commission therefore found that self-preferencing constitutes a “well-established, independent, form of abuse.”53F
To support its line of reasoning, the Commission invoked disparate case law, including judgments involving either specific theories of harm (e.g., Tetra Pack,54F Irish Sugar,55F and Microsoft,56F with regards to tying and predatory pricing, loyalty rebates, and refusal to deal, respectively) or that are outdated (e.g., Telemarketing57F).58F The Commission’s rationale in offering this selection of decisions is unclear. References to one case in which the essential facilities doctrine was applied (i.e., Microsoft) and to another ruling that has since been replaced by the elaboration of the essential facilities doctrine (i.e., Telemarketing) are even more surprising.
The Commission ultimately dismissed Google’s claim that its conduct could be considered abusive only if Bronner’s criteria were fulfilled: namely, if access to Google’s general search results pages were indispensable to being able to compete.59F According to the Commission, the decision merely required Google to cease the conduct. Hence, the Bronner criteria were “irrelevant in a situation, such as that of the present case, where bringing to an end the infringement does not involve imposing a duty on the dominant undertaking to transfer an asset or enter into agreements with persons with whom it has not chosen to contract.”60F
The case spurred debate over the legal test applied to require Google to grant equal treatment to rival comparison-shopping services and its own service. Among the questions raised by the case are whether the conduct fell more within exclusionary or discriminatory abuses and, if it was the former, whether tying or the essential facilities doctrine was the proper framework to assess such self-preferencing abuse.61F For instance, the experts appointed by the Commission to provide suggestions for the design of a competition policy for digital markets considered self-preferencing a specific technique of leveraging, which is not abusive per se, but subject to an effects test.62F Furthermore, quoting Microsoft, they argued that, according to well-established case law, the owner of an essential facility must not engage in self-preferencing. Nonetheless, they believed that self-preferencing by a vertically integrated dominant digital platform can be abusive, not only under the preconditions set out by the essential facilities doctrine, but also wherever it is likely to result in leveraging market power and is not justified by a pro-competitive rationale.
In May 2020, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal handed down a decision in litigation between VBO Makelaars and NVM, two associations of real-estate agents, brokers, and appraisers.63F NVM owns Funda, the largest online real-estate platform in the Netherlands and which, according to VBO, granted NVM agents more prominent positions in the ranking of properties. Funda also applied higher tariffs to and granted only limited website functionality to VBO agents, who also did not have access to the underlying Funda database. VBO’s complaint charged NVM with anticompetitive discrimination.
Upholding the decision of the district court, the Court of Appeal found that Funda did not abuse its dominant position in favoring the listings of NVM members over those of rival agents. Assessing self-preferencing as discriminatory conduct under Article 102(c) TFEU, the Court cited MEO, arguing that VBO’s complaint failed to demonstrate that the discrimination distorted the company’s competitive position in ways that led to a competitive disadvantage on the downstream market for real-estate services.
In particular, the Court noted that several factors play relevant roles in consumers’ home-purchase decisions and that it is implausible that a buyer would automatically assume that the listing placed highest on a website would be the one that best meets their demands. To the contrary, the Court concluded that the market for homes differs significantly from markets for other consumer products. For example, buyers generally conduct an intensive search over a long period of time to consider all relevant offers. Therefore, the Court found, a lower website ranking would be of minor importance and would not necessarily lead to a competitive disadvantage.
Accordingly, the Court considered comparisons with Google Shopping to be unhelpful.64F In assessing NVM’s preferential treatment in accordance with the principles the CJEU elaborated in MEO, however, the Dutch court did frame self-preferencing as a discriminatory abuse, thus anticipating the approach that the European General Court would ultimately endorse in Google Shopping.
In June 2021, the French Competition Authority (AdlC) followed the European Commission’s lead in investigating practices implemented by Google in the online-advertising sector.65F
Responding to referrals from news publishers who monetize their websites and mobile apps through advertising, the AdlC found that Google engaged in abusive practices to favor its own advertising intermediation technologies, granting preferential treatment to its proprietary technologies offered under the Google Ad Manager brand. Notably, in the Authority’s view, Google used its dominant publisher ad server (DoubleClick for Publishers, or DFP) both to favor its own programmatic advertising sales platform (AdX) and, separately, used AdX to favor DFP in the market for supply-side ad-intermediation platforms (SSPs). Regarding the first practice, the preferential treatment consisted of informing AdX of the prices offered by competing SSPs, thus allowing it to optimize the bidding process by varying the commissions received on impressions sold according to the intensity of competition. Regarding the second practice, Google imposed technical and contractual limitations on the use of the AdX platform through a third-party ad server. As a result, the modalities of interaction offered to third-party ad-server clients were inferior to the modalities of interaction between DFP and AdX, which penalized both third-party SSPs and publisher clients.
Similar concerns about the impact of Google’s conduct in ad-tech services have also been raised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The ACCC concluded that Google’s vertical integration and dominance across the ad-tech supply chain and related services have allowed the company to engage in leveraging and self-preferencing conduct and that this, in turn, has likely interfered with the competitive process.66F
According to the AdlC, the evidence showed that DFP’s favorable treatment of AdX had a foreclosure effect on competition among platforms selling ad space, significantly reducing the attractiveness of rival SSPs. In addition, according to the Authority, DFP’s preferential treatment strengthened Google’s dominant position, impairing the competitiveness of rival ad-server providers, and limiting their ability to compete on the merits. Therefore, as regards the latter, limitations on interoperability were deemed a practice that cannot be considered competition on the merits, as it would tend to impose on rivals a competitive disadvantage by applying to them less favorable technical conditions.67F
By and large, the French decision did not provide insights on the theory of harm or type of abuse that this form of discrimination would constitute. Like the European Commission, the AdlC did not refer to self-preferencing explicitly, instead describing Google’s conduct as favoring. With regards to Google’s leveraging strategy, the AdlC cited Google Shopping and quoted the very same case law the Commission mentioned in that decision.68F The only significant addition made by the Authority was a reference to Slovak Telekom, a margin-squeeze case that, as already mentioned, brought about a remarkable change in confining the application of Bronner’s indispensability condition to “pure” refusals to deal.69F
The growing suspicion of self-preferencing has likewise prompted the German Competition Authority to initiate its own proceeding on Apple’s ATT policy,72F while the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) raised similar concerns in its market study on mobile ecosystems.73F
Given this background, the European General Court’s judgment in Google Shopping was much awaited.74F For those who were looking for legal certainty from the judgment, however, those expectations have been not completely met.
What was new in the ruling was its broad interpretation of the general principle of equal treatment, which the Court affirmed obligates vertically integrated platforms to refrain from favoring their own services over rivals.75F While this approach was in line with the Commission’s expansive reading of the special responsibility of dominant firms, however, the ruling framed self-preferencing as a discriminatory abuse.76F Notably, the Court highlighted that the various judgments the Commission cited in its original ruling do not support the conclusion that any use of a dominant position on one market to extend that position to one or more adjacent markets constitutes a “well-established” form of abuse.77F After all, “leveraging” is a generic term covering several practices that are potentially abusive, such as tied sales, margin squeezes, and loyalty rebates.78F
The three rulings the Court cited involve, instead, practices found to be discriminatory abuses specifically because they place third parties at a competitive disadvantage. Two of three involve discriminatory conditions applied by public undertakings operating a commercial port79F and an airport.80F This may support a link with recent legislative initiatives categorizing digital platforms as common carriers and thus subject to the neutrality regime of public utilities-style regulation. Nonetheless, the Court clarified that prohibiting self-preferencing to enforce the policy goal of neutrality is appropriate only when a competitive harm is demonstrated. Indeed, rather than deeming self-preferencing to be per se abusive, the Court moved to its potential anticompetitive effects. This is in line with the effects-based approach affirmed in MEO,81F as well as in other judgments that, although they involve different abusive conduct, entail similar discriminatory elements.82F The Court, however, surprisingly did not even mention MEO.
The Court’s ruling focused on potential exclusionary effects associated with specific leveraging strategies, reflected in the Commission’s original finding of abuse on the basis of certain relevant criteria.83F The Commission had noted that, due to network effects, the traffic that Google’s search engine generates represents a critical asset; that users are significantly influenced by favoring, as they typically concentrate on the first few search results and tend to assume that the most visible results are the most relevant; and that traffic directed from Google’s search-results pages accounts for a large portion of traffic to competing comparison-shopping services, which cannot be effectively replaced by other sources.84F
The Court outlined four criteria that differentiated Google’s self-preferencing from competition on the merits, therefore warranting a finding of antitrust liability.
First, the Court highlighted the “universal vocation” and openness of a search engine as features of its core mission.85F These features distinguish a search engine, which designed to index results that might contain any possible content, from other services referenced in the case law, which consist of tangible or intangible assets (press-distribution systems or intellectual property rights, respectively) whose value depends on a proprietor’s ability to retain their exclusive use.86F
While not explicitly mentioned, the reference is clearly to the essential facilities doctrine case law. Unlike these services, “the rationale and value of a general search engine lie in its capacity to be open” to results from external sources and to display multiple and diverse sources on its general results pages.87F Moreover, the legal obligation of equal treatment that ensues from net-neutrality regulations88F for Internet access providers on the upstream market cannot be disregarded when analyzing the practices of an operator like Google on the downstream market.89F
Second, because Google holds a “superdominant” (or “ultra-dominant”) position on the market for general search services and acts as a “gateway” to the Internet, it is under a stronger obligation not to allow its behavior to impair genuine, undistorted competition on the related market for specialized comparison-shopping search services.90F
Third, the market for general search services is characterized by very high barriers to entry.91F
Fourth, in light of prior considerations (i.e., the mission of a search engine, Google’s dominance, and the presence of very high barriers to entry), the Court found that Google’s conduct is “abnormal.”92F Indeed, for a search engine to limit the scope of its results to its own services entails an element of risk and is “not necessarily rational.” This is especially the case in a situation where, because of barriers to entry and the search engine’s own dominance, it is significantly unlikely that there would be market entry within a sufficiently short period of time in response to the limitations placed on Internet users’ choices.93F
In this scenario, in the Court’s view, Google’s promotion of its own specialized results over third-party results contradicts the basic economic model of a search engine and hence involves a certain form of abnormality.94F The suspicion is strengthened by Google’s “change of conduct.”95F While it initially provided general search services and displayed all the results of specialized search services in the same way and according to the same criteria, once the firm had entered the market for specialized comparison-shopping search services—and after having experienced the failure of its dedicated comparison-shopping website (Froogle)—Google changed its practices and comparison-shopping services were no longer all treated equally.96F
These four criteria suggest that the Court saw Google’s search engine as an essential facility. The Court, indeed, noted that, by envisaging equal treatment for any comparison-shopping services on Google’s general results pages, the Commission’s decision was seeking to provide competitors with access to Google’s general results pages. This was presented as particularly important to competing comparison-shopping services and something that was not effectively replaceable, as it accounted for such a large proportion of traffic to their websites.97F Moreover, the Court acknowledged that the Commission considered Google’s traffic to be indispensable to competing comparison-shopping services.98F As a consequence, the analysis would have required an assessment of preferential treatment pursuant to the conditions set out in Bronne, as Google itself had requested, rather than relying on the case law applicable to abusive leveraging, as the Commission did in its decision.
But despite characterized the features of Google’s general results page as “akin to those of an essential facility,”99F the Court upheld the Commission’s decision not to apply Bronner’s indispensability requirement. In doing so, it drew a line between express refusals to supply and exclusionary practices that do not lie “principally” in a refusal, as such.100F Indeed, “the present case is not concerned merely with a unilateral refusal by Google to supply a service to competing undertakings that is necessary in order to compete on a neighboring market, which would be contrary to Article 102 TFEU and would therefore justify the application of the ‘essential facilities’ doctrine.”101F
Therefore, the Court shared the Commission’s viewpoint that Google’s self-preferencing was a standalone form of leveraging abuse, involving positive acts of discrimination in the treatment of the search results for comparison-shopping services.102F
The Court’s ruling has been generally welcomed for two reasons. By affirming self-preferencing as an independent abuse, the judgment provides legal support to the policy goal of imposing a neutrality regime over large digital platforms, which has informed all the regulatory interventions promoted in different jurisdictions. At the same time, the Court advances a clearer legal qualification of the conduct in question. Indeed, while the Commission’s approach appeared unprecedented—because it revolved around the notion of favoring as a specific form of leveraging—the Court opted for the more defined legal framework of discrimination. The outcome should help to restrain the scope of application for self-preferencing prohibitions in comparison to other traditional practices that, although belonging to the general category of leveraging and including elements of discrimination, reflect specific theories of harm and are assessed according to their respective legal tests.103F By and large, the Court confirms that there is no well-established case law that would forbid any extension of a dominant position in adjacent markets, in contrast with the Commission’s stance.
Nonetheless, the ruling raises new doubts. Notably, the definition of the conduct that would be covered remains unclear. While adopting the general principle of equal treatment as a legal basis to prohibit self-preferencing may allow intrusions into platforms’ design choices,104F the listed criteria appear to define a narrow framework, ultimately calling into question the broad application of self-preferencing as a standalone abuse.
The Court underscored the relevance of the “particular context” in which favoring occurred.105F Namely, the emphasis was on the role played by search engines on the Internet, including their “universal vocation” and “open” business models. This is strengthened by analogies to net neutrality, the characteristics “akin to those of an essential facility,” and the “superdominant position” that made Google a “gateway” to the Internet. Furthermore, the peculiar features of search engines (notably, their openness) are also deemed relevant in assessing the “abnormality” of Google’s behavior—which, in the Court’s evaluation, is indeed at odds with the basic economic model of its search engine. The legal framework is completed with the detection of opportunistic behavior by Google, which changed its strategy once it entered the adjacent market of comparison-shopping services.
It is left far from clear whether Google Shopping is even sanctioning the favoring practice as such. Indeed, the Court describes the anticompetitive strategy in question as formed by a combination of two practices—namely the promotion of Google’s own services and the demotion of its rivals’ services. Therefore, the conduct is not necessarily abusive even if it consists “solely in the special display and positioning” of the platform’s own products and services.106F The practice has instead been judged illegal because it included the relegation of competing services in Google’s general results pages by means of adjustment algorithms. That, in conjunction with Google’s promotion of its own results, there was a simultaneous demotion of results from competing comparison services is considered a “constituent element” of the conduct and moreover plays a “major role” in the exclusionary effect identified.107F
In summary, rather than articulating a legal test for a new antitrust offense, the criteria pointed out in the judgment for considering the preferential treatment abusive appear extremely fact-sensitive: both Google-specific and search engine-specific. Therefore, it is difficult to see how, according to these criteria, a self-preferencing prohibition may be applied to different forms of preferential treatment, digital services, and business models.108F
A few weeks after the General Court’s ruling, the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) handed down a decision that significantly departed from the legal framework elaborated in Google Shopping, thus confirming that the precise contours of self-preferencing abuses under Article 102 TFEU remained anything but clear.109F
In late November 2021, the AGCM issued a mammoth fine against Amazon for granting preferential treatment to third-party sellers who use the company’s own logistics and delivery services (i.e., Fulfilment by Amazon, or FBA). Amazon was accused of having leveraged its dominance in the market for intermediation services on marketplaces to favor the adoption of its own FBA by sellers active on Amazon.it, as well as to strengthen its own dominant position. Under AGCM’s view, this strategy ultimately harmed both competing logistics operators, by putting them at a competitive disadvantage, and competing marketplaces, by creating incentives for sellers to single-home.
Indeed, although third-party sellers are free to manage the logistics associated with their operations on the platform themselves or outsource them to an independent operator (Merchant Fulfilment Network, or MFN), Amazon was deemed to be artificially pushing them to use its own logistics service, thus deterring them from multi-homing.110F Notably, the Authority found that Amazon “tied” the use of FBA to access to a set of exclusive benefits essential for gaining visibility and increasing sales on the marketplace.111F
Among those benefits, the most relevant is the Prime label, which allows sellers to participate in special events promoted by Amazon (e.g., Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Prime Day) and benefit from fast and free shipping. Furthermore, Prime increases the likelihood of sellers’ offers being selected as featured offers displayed in the Buy Box. This is of the utmost importance to sellers, as the Buy Box prominently displays just a single seller’s offer for a given product on Amazon’s marketplaces and generates the vast majority of all sales for that product.
Quoting from several of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ letters to shareholders, the AGCM noted the company believes FBA is the “glue” that links Marketplace and Prime112F: “Thanks to FBA, Marketplace and Prime are no longer two things … Their economics and customer experience are now happily and deeply intertwined.”113F Furthermore, FBA is a “game changer” for sellers because it makes their items eligible for Prime benefits, which drives their sales.114F Pursuant to its leveraging strategy, Amazon prevented third-party sellers from associating the Prime label with offers not managed by FBA. In addition, the AGCM noted that third-party sellers using FBA are not subject to the performance-evaluation metrics that Amazon applies in monitoring non-FBA sellers’ performance. Such metrics can ultimately lead to the suspension of non-compliant sellers’ accounts on Amazon.it. All these benefits derived from the use of FBA were considered, to various extents, to be “crucial” to success on the marketplace.115F
It is worth noting that the European Commission has also launched an investigation of Amazon for facts identical to those already addressed in the Italian inquiry, with the relevant market defined as the European Economic Area, except for Italy.116F
The alleged unequal treatment of non-FBA sellers has also been investigated by the Austrian Federal Competition Authority (BWB).117F Although concerned about potential discrimination against sellers who organize their deliveries independently, the Authority conceded that a better ranking could have also resulted from the better service offered under FBA, compared with the independent organization of deliveries. Hence, the BWB remained open to the possibility that the appearance of preferential treatment for FBA Marketplace sellers was objectively justified.118F The Austrian Authority concluded that a comprehensive and transparent legal framework was the best way to counter problematic business practices and accepted Amazon’s modifications to its terms and conditions.119F
The link between Amazon Marketplace and FBA was also scrutinized as part of the investigation conducted by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee into the state of competition in digital markets. The subcommittee’s final report found that many third-party sellers have no choice but to purchase fulfillment services from Amazon to maintain a favorable search-result position.120F The report characterized Amazon’s strategy as tying.121F
For the sake of our analysis, the Italian Amazon decision is especially remarkable because of how it contrasts with Google Shopping. As already mentioned, with the exception of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal, it represents the only decision in which the term self-preferencing is used.122F Self-preferencing is here defined as an unequal and unjustified preferential treatment granted by a dominant player to its own services in pursuing a leveraging strategy, hence falling outside the scope of competition on the merits.123F Therefore, rather than reflecting the criteria set out by the General Court, the Italian decision is clearly inspired by the Commission’s approach in Google Shopping. Indeed, in line with the idea of describing self-preferencing as a new form of leveraging abuse, Amazon’s practice is characterized as a form of tying.124F
This definition of self-preferencing is convenient for enforcers, in that it would allow them to bypass the legal standards otherwise required to prove unlawful tying. Indeed, tying requires a form of coercion, such that customers do not have the choice to obtain the tying product without the tied product. In the Amazon case, by contrast, there is neither a contractual obligation nor technical integration between marketplace services and logistics services. Business users are free to run the logistics by themselves or to outsource it to an independent operator without losing the ability to operate on the Amazon e-commerce platform.
Apart from the legal qualification of the conduct in question (which may be more properly characterized as bundling), finding an abuse in a tying case also requires proof of potential foreclosure effects against equally efficient rivals. Looking at the effects on logistics operators, according to the AGCM’s view, vertical integration between the marketplace and logistics constitutes Amazon’s main competitive advantage, which is unmatchable even by equally efficient rivals.125F Indeed, FBA is an integrated logistics service designed to represent “a one-stop shop solution” for storage, shipping, and customer service within a “closed and complete ecosystem” in which Amazon plays multiple roles.126F While Amazon recently started offering a multi-channel logistics service, few retailers have adopted it due to its high operating costs.127F Moreover, part of the AGCM’s decision concerning complaints raised by Amazon’s major e-commerce rival eBay—which reported that a large portion of its market share had been absorbed by Amazon—ultimately recognized that Amazon’s superiority stemmed from its popularity with users and retailers, especially in the critical areas of trust, shipping, and returns.128F
In short, the thing that has made the playing field uneven has been Amazon’s creation of a successful ecosystem, which provides the company with competitive advantages that cannot be replicated either by pure online marketplaces or pure logistics providers.129F A prohibition on self-preferencing may therefore functionally reflect a bias against ecosystems, which require massive and uncertain investment to create, and which provide significant benefits to both business users and final customers.
In summary, the AGCM endorsed an expansive view of the scope of anticompetitive self-preferencing that was at odds with the legal qualifications and narrow criteria set out by the General Court in Google Shopping, and that lacked the context the General Court had laid out to assess the circumstances in which preferential treatment constitutes discriminatory abuse. Notably, an online marketplace does not share many relevant features with an Internet search engine. Indeed, Amazon’s business model is “a closed and complete ecosystem.”130F Moreover, unlike in the Google Shopping case, Amazon is not accused of changing its conduct in response to its market position. The only elements of the criteria defined in Google Shopping that Amazon could be argued to meet are operating in a market with high barriers to entry and being a vertically integrated firm with a super/hyper dominance in the upstream market.131F
Although the General Court’s ruling is mentioned a few times,132F these appear to be last-minute references included merely to note that the Commission’s decision had been upheld by the General Court.133F Since the Italian Amazon decision was delivered just a few weeks after the Google Shopping ruling, it is possible that the AGCM simply did not have time to adjust its line of reasoning to comport with the Court’s qualifications and criteria.
A broad interpretation of self-preferencing could find that it covers the preferential provision of data and information, which could similarly be prohibited as abusive. Following this line of reasoning, the European Commission sent a statement of objections to Amazon in November 2020 informing the company of the Commission’s preliminary view that its practice of systematically using non-public business data from independent retailers who sell on its online marketplace infringes antitrust rules, on grounds that Amazon uses that data to benefit its own retail business that directly competes with those retailers.134F
More recently, the UK CMA has also opened an investigation into how Amazon collects and uses third-party seller data, including whether Amazon gains an unfair advantage in business decisions made by its retail arm.135F Similar concerns were raised by staff to the U.S. House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, whose final report argued that Amazon’s asymmetric access to and use of third-party seller data constitutes unfair treatment of those third-party sellers.136F The ACCC likewise warned that Apple and Google both have the ability and incentive to use their positions as app-marketplace operators to monitor downstream competitors.137F For instance, the ACCC found that Apple’s Developer Agreement allows the company to develop, acquire, license, market, promote, and distribute products and software that perform functions the same or similar to any of the products, software or technologies provided by app developers that use the App Store. By contrast, Apple requires that app developers follow obligations to avoid being copycats.
Similar allegations of unfair use of user data have been levied against Facebook by the European Commission and the U.K. CMA, which charge that the company uses data gathered from advertisers in order to compete with them in markets in which Facebook is active, such as classified ads.138F Finally, one focus of the European Commission’s investigation of Apple’s App Store rule requiring developers to use Apple’s in-app purchase mechanism for the distribution of paid apps and/or paid digital content is the potential that competing developers may be disintermediated from important customer data, while Apple can obtain valuable data about the activities and offers of its competitors.139F
These investigations have inspired the bans on so-called “sherlocking” (i.e., the use of business users’ data to compete against them) included both in the DMA140F and the proposed American Innovation and Competition Online Act,141F as well as calls for structural separation and line-of-business restrictions.142F
Amazon has faced accusations that it takes advantage of its dual role and hybrid business model in serving both as a marketplace-service provider and a retailer on the same marketplace, in competition with independent sellers. The charge is that the company can leverage its access to non-public third-party sellers’ data—such as the number of units ordered and shipped, the revenues sellers earn on the marketplace, the number of visits to sellers’ offers, data related to shipping and to sellers’ past performance, and consumer product claims—to identify and replicate popular and profitable products from among the hundreds of millions of listings on its marketplace.
Notably, according to the European Commission’s preliminary findings, such granular and real-time business data feed into the algorithms of Amazon’s retail business, allowing them to calibrate retail offers and strategic business decisions to the detriment of the other marketplace sellers. Thus, it is argued that the appropriation and the use of third-party sellers’ data enables Amazon to avoid the normal risks of retail competition, such as those associated with investing in a new product or choosing a specific price level, and to leverage its dominance in the market for the provision of marketplace services in France and Germany (i.e., the biggest markets for Amazon in the EU).143F
The U.S. House Antitrust Subcommittee similarly charged that Amazon is able to use marketplace data from third-party merchants to create competing private-label products or to source products directly from manufacturers in order to free ride off sellers’ efforts.144F The impact assessment study supporting the DMA confirmed this suspicion, noting that the launch of Amazon Basics (i.e., the most successful private label brand on Amazon’s marketplace) has negatively impacted the sales on Amazon of third-party products in identified attractive product segments.145F
Leveraging this information exclusively, without sharing it with third-party sellers, is considered a form of self-preferencing because Amazon is in position to use data from its marketplace to gain a competitive advantage in market research and to identify new business opportunities without incurring any financial risk.146F Furthermore, by using information from its Amazon fulfilment program, Amazon can also determine where products offered by third-party merchants are being manufactured and by whom. Since Amazon Basics products are sold in large volumes, Amazon can approach the manufacturers of goods for third-party merchants, buy these items in larger quantities, and sell them for a lower price than the competition on its own platform.147F
This line of reasoning aligns with the core concerns about self-preferencing, such as conflicts of interest and the competitive advantages that a platform’s dual role may yield. But to invoke antitrust in cases where a platform performing a dual role gains a competitive advantage would require demonstrating proof of competitive harm, which isn’t apparent in this case. Indeed, while the impact on innovation appears uncertain,148F Amazon’s practice likely benefits consumers by permitting close price comparisons, increasing output, and forcing sellers to reduce their prices.149F Such effects are even more relevant when it comes to sellers with market power, as the introduction of products and services in competition with third parties would reduce double marginalization.
Moreover, the relevance of non-public third-party merchants’ data in facilitating copying by Amazon is questionable. Indeed, as noted, Amazon’s public product reviews supply a great deal of information and any competitor can obtain an item for the purposes of reverse engineering.150F Conversely, if the products in question are protected by intellectual-property rights, Amazon could be found guilty of infringement. Finally, it is unclear whether and how this form of self-preferencing would meet the legal qualification and criteria set out by the General Court in Google Shopping.
Nonetheless, the European Commission is currently evaluating the commitments offered by Amazon, which has proposed to refrain from using non-public data relating to, or derived from, the activities of independent sellers on its marketplace for its retail businesses that compete with those sellers.151F The relevant data would cover both individual and aggregate data (e.g., sales terms, revenues, shipments, inventory-related information, consumer-visit data, or seller performance on the platform). Amazon commits not to use such data for the purposes of selling branded goods, as well as in its private-label products.
Because preferential treatment may result from a wide range of practices, self-preferencing potentially covers different types of behavior that are subject to different legal standards and that may include exploitative elements.152F Prohibitions on self-preferencing as per se anticompetitive would therefore grant antitrust enforcers significant leeway to bypass the legal standards ordinarily required to prove traditional anticompetitive harms. As a result, such prohibitions would provide antitrust authorities with a powerful tool to intervene in digital markets. This issue is particularly sensitive in Europe where the DMA entrusts the European Commission with the sole power to apply the new regulation but does not displace national competition law. Hence, national competition authorities will remain in charge of the enforcement of national and European antitrust rules.
Besides its potential as an enforcement shortcut, self-preferencing prohibitions may function to impose a neutrality regime on online gatekeepers. The aim would be to ensure a level playing field that currently appears uneven because of the bottleneck and intermediation power exerted by large online platforms. Such rules also could neutralize conflicts of interests raised by platforms’ dual-mode intermediation. The dual roles that some platforms perform fuel the never-ending debate over vertical integration and the related concern that, by giving preferential treatment to its own products and services, an integrated provider may leverage its dominance from one market to related markets. Indeed, the circumstances that may give rise to conflicts of interests and the circumstances that can give rise to leveraging strategies can be similar.153F From this perspective, self-preferencing is a byproduct of the emergence of ecosystems. By integrating complementary products and services, a platform that controls and operates at all levels of the value chain may have an incentive to favor its own offers.154F
But as antitrust authorities generally recognize, self-preferencing conduct is “often benign.”155F Furthermore, since the value that the ecosystem generates depends on the activities of independent complementors, that value is not completely under the control of the platform owner.156F Firms operating on the platform and competing with the platform owner may be disadvantaged by a variety of legal, technological, and informational measures implicated by self-preferencing, but there also may be legitimate justifications for such conduct that would need to be carefully considered in each instance.157F Platforms implement different business models and are driven by different incentives, which in turn affects their strategies.
Against this backdrop, an outright ban on self-preferencing could undermine the very existence of ecosystems by challenging their design and monetization strategies.158F Given that preferential treatment can take many different forms and have very different effects, the different business models adopted by platforms should be subject to case-by-case and effects-based assessment.159F This is also consistent with the industrial-organization literature, which has found mixed evidence on the impact of duality on welfare, thereby supporting the insight that absolute neutrality is not desirable and interventions should be product- and platform-specific.160F
Finally, and more importantly, antitrust law does not impose a general duty to ensure a level playing field by sharing competitive advantages with rivals. Indeed, a competitive advantage cannot be automatically equated with anticompetitive effects.161F Within this framework, the relevance of the general principle of equal treatment that has been invoked by the General Court in Google Shopping to frame self-preferencing as a discriminatory abuse should be regarded with significant skepticism.
This is even more evident in the aftermath of the recent CJEU ruling in Servizio Elettrico Nazionale, which confirmed that the effects-based approach to the assessment of abusive practices remains core to European competition law.162F Notably, the CJEU definitively stated that competition law is not intended to protect the competitive structure of the market, but rather to protect consumer welfare, which represents the goal of antitrust intervention.163F
Accordingly, as illustrated in Intel, not every exclusionary effect is necessarily detrimental to competition.164F Competition on the merits may, by definition, lead some competitors— those that are less efficient and thus less attractive to consumers from the standpoint of price, choice, quality or innovation—to become marginalized or to depart from the market.165F In particular, given that exclusionary effects do not necessarily undermine competition, a distinction must be drawn between a risk of foreclosure and a risk of anticompetitive foreclosure, since only the latter may be penalized under Article 102 TFEU.166F If any conduct having an exclusionary effect were automatically classified as anticompetitive, such rules would become a means to protect less capable, less efficient undertakings and would in no way protect the more meritorious undertakings that stimulate a market’s competitiveness.167F
By and large, these well-settled principles do not support the claim that antitrust rules are designed to ensure platform neutrality. As acknowledged by the General Court in Google Shopping, self-preferencing cannot be considered prima facie unlawful and therefore outside the scope of competition on the merits. Its assessment instead requires the demonstration of anticompetitive effects, taking account of the circumstances of the case and the relevant legal and economic context.168F Toward this aim, a dominant platform remains free to demonstrate that its practice, albeit producing an exclusionary effect, is objectively justified on the basis of all the circumstances of the case, or that the effects are counterbalanced or outweighed by efficiency advantages that also benefit consumers, such as through lower prices, better quality, or a wider choice of new or improved goods and services.169F
In order to assess the anticompetitive nature of a practice, it is necessary to examine whether the means used come within the scope of normal competition.170F Anticompetitive effects do not amount to a mere competitive disadvantage, but require an impact on efficient firms’ ability and incentive to compete.171F Servizio Elettrico Nazionale also clarified the meaning of competition on the merits, considering outside its scope conduct that is not based on obvious economic reasons or objective reasons.172F It is therefore necessary to assess the ability of equally efficient competitors to imitate the conduct of the dominant undertaking. Exclusionary conduct by a dominant firm that can be replicated by equally efficient competitors does not represent the sort of conduct that would lead to anticompetitive foreclosure; it therefore comes within the scope of competition on the merits.173F In order to assess whether a given practice comes within the scope of competition on the merits, the test of whether it would be impossible for an equally efficient rival to imitate the dominant firm’s conduct arises from the case law on both price-related (e.g., TeliaSonera and Post Danmark II) and non-price-related conduct (e.g., Bronner).174F
Moving away from the goal of ensuring a level playing field, recent European case law on self-preferencing centers instead on the competitive advantages that platforms enjoy due to their dual role. A competitive advantage, however, need not amount to anticompetitive foreclosure. Foreclosure not only needs to be proved, but also assessed against potential advantages for consumers, in terms of price, quality, and choice of new goods and services. It is even less clear how NCAs’ expansive approach toward self-preferencing as a standalone abuse fit within this legal framework. Both the AdlC’s decision in Google AdTech and the AGCM’s decision in Amazon Logistics appear inconsistent both with the legal qualification and criteria defined by the General Court, and with the CJEU principles recalled in Servizio Elettrico Nazionale. Similar doubts are raised by the investigations into the preferential access to and use of non-public business data. Moreover, in these cases, the benefits for consumers appear particularly significant as, for instance in Amazon Marketplace, the conduct under investigation led to an immediate output increase and price reduction: in short, more competition.
In her opinion Post Danmark II opinion, Advocate General Juliane Kokott warned that, in enforcing antitrust rules, the CJEU “should not allow itself to be influenced so much by current thinking (‘Zeitgeist’) or ephemeral trends, but should have regard rather to the legal foundations on which the prohibition of abuse of a dominant position rests in EU law.”175F Accordingly, this paper has addressed the prevailing zeitgeist in digital markets, analyzing the markets’ proclaimed peculiar features and the potential scope of application to evaluate whether it should be considered a novel standalone antitrust prohibition.
Indeed, common-carrier antitrust is on the rise. Following the 2017 decision in Google Shopping, the European Commission and some NCAs have advanced a new theory of harm pointing to the competitive disadvantage suffered by rivals. This therefore constitutes a de facto ban on any preferential treatment granted by dominant platforms to their own products and services. Such a strong stance in antitrust enforcement relies on the premise that the special responsibility that an incumbent dominant player bears implies that they must ensure a level playing field.
It remains the case, however, that European case law questions both the goal of relying on antitrust rules to impose a neutrality regime on dominant platforms and the very existence of self-preferencing as an autonomous abuse. Competition law does not impose a general duty to share competition advantages with rivals and does not protect the structure of the market; hence, not every exclusionary effect automatically undermines competition. Self-preferencing is not, in itself, unlawful and platform neutrality as such is outside the scope of competition law.
In contrast with the European Commission and some NCAs, the European General Court in Google Shopping not only framed self-preferencing as a discriminatory abuse but also highlighted some criteria to assess its potential exclusionary effects and considered it outside the scope of competition on the merits. Such criteria are particularly fact-sensitive, and therefore at odds with its wide application as a standalone abuse.
In summary, against the sirens of a fascinating, popular, and convenient new label, the limiting principles of competition law remind us that it cannot be weaponized to ensure a specific market outcome. Therefore, in the aftermath of the Google Shopping ruling, doubts about the characteristics and boundaries of self-preferencing remain on the table, and we still do not have a legal test that distinguishes such purported new antitrust offenses from other practices aimed at pursuing leveraging strategies and already addressed by antitrust rules.
 Jacques Cre?mer, Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, and Heike Schweitzer, Competition Policy for the Digital Era, European Commission (2019) 7, available at https://ec.europa.eu/competition/publications/reports/kd0419345enn.pdf; Unlocking Digital Competition, UK Digital Competition Expert Panel (2019) 58, available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/785547/unlocking_digital_competition_furman_review_web.pdf.
 Elizabeth Warren, Here’s How We Can Break up Big Tech, Medium (2019) available at https://medium.com/@teamwarren/heres-how-we-can-break-up-big-tech-9ad9e0da324c.
 Margrethe Vestager, Statement Before the U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law (2020) 2, available at https://www.euractiv.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/07/Statement-EVP-Vestager-House-SubCommittee-30-July.pdf. See also id., Technology with Purpose (2020), https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/vestager/announcements/technology-purpose_en.
 Thomas Eisenmann, Geoffrey Parker, and Marshall Van Alstyne, Platform Envelopment, 32 Strateg. Manag. J. 1270 (2011).
 Regulation (EU) on Contestable and Fair Markets in the Digital Sector (Digital Markets Act), Article 6(1), (3), (5), (7), and (12), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2022-0270_EN.html.
 Impact Assessment – A New Pro-Competition Regime for Digital Markets, U.K. Government (2021) para. 21, https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/a-new-pro-competition-regime-for-digital-markets.
 GWB Digitalization Act (Jan. 18, 2021), Section 19a, https://www.bundesrat.de/SharedDocs/beratungsvorgaenge/2021/0001-0100/0038-21.html.
 S.2992 – American Innovation and Choice Online Act, 117th Congress (2021-2022) Section 3(a)(1), available at https://www.congress.gov/117/bills/s2992/BILLS-117s2992rs.pdf.
 Richard J. Gilbert, The American Innovation and Choice Online Act: Lessons from the 1950 Celler-Kevaufer Amendment, Concurrentialiste (2022), https://leconcurrentialiste.com/gilbert-innovation-choice-act/?mc_cid=8bdf17d95a&mc_eid=34922555f0; Randal Picker, The House’s Recent Spate of Antitrust Bills Would Change Big Tech as We Know It, Promarket (2021), https://promarket.org/2021/06/29/house-antitrust-bills-big-tech-apple-preinstallation.
 Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets’, Majority Staff Reports and Recommendations, U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law (2020), 380, https://judiciary.house.gov/uploadedfiles/competition_in_digital_markets.pdf?utm_campaign=4493-519. See also Elettra Bietti, Self-Regulating Platforms and Antitrust Justice, Tex. Law Rev. (forthcoming); Nikolas Guggenberg, Essential Platforms, 24 STLR 237 (2021); Rory Van Loo, In Defense of Breakups: Administering a “Radical” Remedy, 105 Cornell L. Rev. 1955 (2020); Lina M. Khan, The Separation of Platforms and Commerce, 119 Columbia Law Rev. 973 (2019); K. Sabeel Rahman, Regulating Informational Infrastructure Internet Platforms as the New Public Utilities, 2 GLTR 234 (2018).
 Case AT.39740, Google Search (Shopping), European Commission (Jun. 27, 2017).
 Case T-612/17, Google LLC and Alphabet Inc. v. European Commission, European General Court (Nov. 10, 2021), EU:T:2021:763.
 See, e.g., Decision No. 29925, FBA Amazon, Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (Nov. 30, 2021), https://www.agcm.it/dettaglio?db=41256297003874BD&uid=801201274D8FDD40C12587AA0056B614&view=&title=A528-FBA%20AMAZON&fs=Abuso%20di%20posizione%20dominante. Previously, see Decision 21-D-11, Google, Autorité de la Concurrence (Jun. 7 2021) , https://www.autoritedelaconcurrence.fr/en/decision/regarding-practices-implemented-online-advertising-sector.
 Giuseppe Colangelo, The Digital Markets Act and EU Antitrust Enforcement: Double & Triple jeopardy, ICLE White Paper (2022), https://laweconcenter.org/resource/the-digital-markets-act-and-eu-antitrust-enforcement-double-triple-jeopardy.
 Pablo Iba?n?ez Colomo, Self-Preferencing: Yet Another Epithet in Need of Limiting Principles, 43 World Competition 417 (2020).
 Nicolas Petit, A Theory of Antitrust Limits, 28 Geo. Mason L. Rev. 1399 (2021).
 Herbert Hovenkamp, Selling Antitrust, Hastings L.J. (forthcoming).
 See Opinion of Advocate General Wahl, 20 December 2017, Case C?525/16, MEO — Serviços de Comunicações e Multimédia SA v. Autoridade da Concorrência, EU:C:2017:1020, paras. 76-77, arguing that a distinction must be drawn between undertakings that are vertically integrated (and have an interest in displacing competitors on the downstream market) and those that have no such interest. In the case of vertically integrated undertakings, the application by a dominant undertaking of discriminatory prices on the downstream or upstream market is, in reality, similar to first-degree price discrimination, which indirectly affects the undertaking’s competitors. See also Inge Graef, Differentiated Treatment in Platform-to-Business Relations: EU Competition Law and Economic Dependence, 38 YEL 448, 452-453 (2019), distinguishing among pure self-preferencing (whereby a vertically integrated platform treats its affiliated services more favorably than non-affiliated services), pure secondary line differentiation (whereby a non-vertically integrated platform engages in differentiated treatment among unaffiliated services in a market in which it is not active itself), and a hybrid category in which either a vertically integrated or a non-vertically integrated platform engages in differentiated treatment among unaffiliated services in an effort to favor its own business.
 Nicolas Petit, Theories of Self-Preferencing Under Article 102 TFEU: A Reply to Bo Vesterdorf, 1(3) CLPD 4 (2015).
 Case C-413/14 P, Intel v. Commission, Court of Justice of the European Union (Sept. 6, 2017), EU:C:2017:632.
 Id., C?525/16, MEO v. Autoridade da Concorrência (Apr. 19, 2018), EU:C:2018:270. See also Wahl, supra note 18, para. 61.
 Guidance on the Commission’s Enforcement Priorities in Applying Article 82 of the EC Treaty to Abusive Exclusionary Conduct by Dominant Undertakings, European Commission (2009) OJ C 45/7, paras. 47-62.
 See Autorité de la Concurrence, supra note 13, para. 410, binding limits on interoperability with third-party services servers cannot be considered competition on the merits. See also Herbert Hovenkamp, Antitrust and the Design of Production, 103 Cornell L. Rev. 1155 (2018); Pablo Iba?n?ez Colomo, Product Design and Business Models in EU Antitrust Law, SSRN (2021), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3925396.
 Case T-201/04, Microsoft v. Commission, European General Court (Sept. 17, 2007), para. 1036, EU:T:2007:289.
 Case AT.40099, Google Android, European Commission, (Jul. 18, 2018), confirmed by Case T-604/18, Google v. Commission, European General Court (Sept. 14, 2022) EU:T:2022:541.
 Dirk Auer, Appropriability and the European Commission’s Android Investigation, 23 CJEL 647 (2017).
 Christopher S. Yoo, Open Source, Modular Platforms, and the Challenge of Fragmentation, 1 Criterion Journal on Innovation 619 (2016).
 UK Government, supra note 6, para. 21.
 Joined Cases C-241/91 P and 242/91 P, RTE and ITP v. Commission, Court of Justice of the European Union (Apr. 6, 1995), EU:C:1995:98.
 Id., 29, Case C-418/01, IMS Health GmbH & Co. OHG v. NDC Health GmbH & Co. GH (Apr. 29, 2004), EU:C:2004:257.
 European General Court, supra note 24.
 Case C-7/97, Oscar Bronner GmbH & Co. KG v. Mediaprint Zeitungs- und Zeitschriftenverlag GmbH & Co. KG, Mediaprint Zeitungsvertriebsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG and Mediaprint Anzeigengesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, Court of Justice of the European Union (Nov. 26, 1998), EU:C:1998:569.
 Id., Case C-165/19 P, Slovak Telekom a.s. v. Commission (Mar. 25, 2021) para. 50, EU:C:2021:239.
 Ibid., para. 57. In a similar vein, see Case T?814/17, Lietuvos gele?inkeliai AB v. Commission, European General Court (Nov. 18, 2020), para. 92, EU:T:2020:545.
 European Commission, supra note 22, para. 80.
 Ibid., para. 82; and Case COMP/38.784, Wanadoo Espan?a v. Telefo?nica, European Commission (Jul 4, 2007). This is likely to occur in two cases: where regulation compatible with EU law already imposes an obligation to supply on the dominant undertaking and it is clear, from the considerations underlying such regulation, that the necessary balancing of incentives has already been made by the public authority when imposing such obligation; or where the upstream market position of the dominant firm has been developed under the protection of special or exclusive rights or has been financed by state resources.
 Case C-280/08 P, Deutsche Telekom AG v. European Commission (Deutsche Telekom I), Court of Justice of the European Union (Oct. 14, 2010), EU:C:2010:603.
 Id., Case C-52/09, Konkurrensverket v. TeliaSonera Sverige AB (Feb. 17, 2011), EU:C:2011:83.
 Id., Case C?295/12 P, Telefónica SA and Telefónica de España SAU v. European Commission (Jul. 10, 2014), EU:C:2014:2062.
 Id., supra note 33.
 Case C/13/528337, VBO Makelaar v. Funda, Gerechtshof Amsterdam (May 16, 2020), para. 3.12.3.
 Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, supra note 13, paras. 236, 393, 436, 504, 708, 710, 716, and 901.
 European Commission, supra note 11.
 Streetmap.EU Ltd. v. Google and Others,  EWHC 253 (ch).
 Ibid., paras. 51-54.
 Ibid., paras. 84 and 147.
 Ibid., para. 84.
 Ibid., para. 149.
 Ibid., para. 139.
 Ibid., para. 161.
 European Commission, supra note 11, para. 344.
 Ibid., para. 649.
 Case C-333/94, Tetra Pak International SA v. Commission, Court of Justice of the European Union (Nov. 14, 1996), EU:C:1996:436.
 Case T-288/97, Irish Sugar plc v Commission, European General Court (Oct. 7, 1999), EU:T:1999:246.
 Id., supra note 24.
 Case C-311/84, Centre Belge D’Etudes de Marché – Télémarketing (CBEM) v. SA Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Télédiffusion (CLT) and Information Publicité Benelux (IPB), Court of Justice of the European Union (Oct. 3, 1985), EU:C:1985:394.
 European Commission, supra note 11, para. 334.
 Ibid., para. 645.
 Ibid., para. 651.
 See, e.g., Jay Pil Choi and Doh-Shin Jeon, A Leverage Theory of Tying in Two-Sided Markets with Nonnegative Price Constraints, 13 Am Econ J Microecon 283 (2021); Edward Iacobucci and Francesco Ducci, The Google Search Case in Europe: Tying and the Single Monopoly Profit Theorem in Two?Sided Markets, 47 Eur. J. Law Econ. 15 (2019); Eduardo Aguilera Valdivia, The Scope of the ‘Special Responsibility’ upon Vertically Integrated Dominant Firms after the Google Shopping Case: Is There a Duty to Treat Rivals Equally and Refrain from Favouring Own Related Business?, 41 World Competition 43 (2018); Pinar Akman, The Theory of Abuse in Google Search: A Positive and Normative Assessment under EU Competition Law, 2 J. Tech. L. & Pol’y 301 (2017); Ioannis Kokkoris, The Google Case in the EU: Is There a Case?, 62 Antitrust Bull. 313 (2017); John Temple Lang, Comparing Microsoft and Google: The Concept of Exclusionary Abuse, 39 World Competition 5 (2016); Renato Nazzini, Unequal Treatment by Online Platforms: A Structured Approach to the Abuse Test in Google, SSRN (2016), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2815081; Bo Vesterdorf, Theories of Self-Preferencing and Duty to Deal – Two Sides of the Same Coin?, 1(1) CLPD 4 (2015); Petit, supra note 19.
 Cre?mer, de Montjoye, and Schweitzer, supra note 1.
 Gerechtshof Amsterdam, supra note 41.
 Ibid., para. 3.12.1.
 Autorité de la Concurrence, supra note 13.
 Digital Advertising Services Inquiry Final Report, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (2021), available at https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Digital%20advertising%20services%20inquiry%20-%20final%20report.pdf.
 Autorité de la Concurrence, supra note 13, paras. 369 and 410.
 Ibid., paras. 366 and 369. Since Google did not hold a dominant position in the market for SSPs, the reference to Tetra Pak has also been used to argue that, under specific circumstances, behavior implemented in a non-dominated market that has effects on the dominated market may be considered abusive (see para. 367).
 CJEU, supra note 33.
 Decision 21-D-07, Apple, Autorité de la Concurrence, (Mar. 17, 2021) https://www.autoritedelaconcurrence.fr/en/decision/regarding-request-interim-measures-submitted-associations-interactive-advertising-bureau.
 Ibid., para. 163.
 Bundeskartellamt Reviews Apple’s Tracking Rules for Third-Party Apps (press release), Bundeskartellamt (2022) https://www.bundeskartellamt.de/SharedDocs/Meldung/EN/Pressemitteilungen/2022/14_06_2022_Apple.html.
 Mobile Ecosystems: Market Study Final Report, U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (2022), Chapter 6 and Appendix J, https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/mobile-ecosystems-market-study.
 European General Court, supra note 12.
 Ibid., para. 155.
 More recently, see also Case 50972, Google Privacy Sandbox, U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (Feb. 11, 2022), https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/investigation-into-googles-privacy-sandbox-browser-changes, which considered self-preferencing as a traditional discrimination abuse. In particular, the competitive risks the CMA highlighted involve Google’s self-preferencing its own ad inventory and ad-tech services by transferring key functionalities to Chrome. The Privacy Sandbox Project would offer Google the ability to affect digital-advertising-market outcomes through Chrome in a way that cannot be scrutinized by third parties. It could lead to conflicts of interests because Google operates as publisher and ad-tech provider simultaneously.
 General Court, supra note 12, para. 160.
 Ibid., para. 163.
 Case C-242/95, GT-Link A/S v. De Danske Statsbaner (DSB), Court of Justice of the European Union (Jul. 17, 1997), EU:C:1997:376.
 Id., Case C-82/01 P, Ae?roports de Paris v. Commission (Oct. 24, 2002), EU:C:2002:617.
 Id., supra note 21.
 See Lena Hornkohl, Article 102 TFEU, Equal Treatment and Discrimination after Google Shopping, 13 J. Eur. Compet. Law Pract. 99 (2022), mentioning Post Danmark I as an example of primary-line exclusionary discrimination in the predatory-pricing context and TeliaSonera (supra note 38) and Slovak Telekom (supra note 33) as examples of secondary-line exclusionary discrimination in the margin-squeeze context.
 General Court, supra note 12, paras. 166 and 175.
 Ibid., paras. 169-174.
 Ibid., paras. 176-177.
 Ibid., para. 178.
 Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 laying down measures concerning open Internet access and amending Directive 2002/22/EC on universal service and users’ rights relating to electronic communications networks and services, and Regulation (EU) No 531/2012 on roaming on public mobile-communications networks within the European Union, (2015) OJ L 310/1.
 General Court, supra note 12, para. 180. Comparisons to net neutrality have also been made by the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, supra note 10, 382-383, recommending that Congress consider establishing nondiscrimination rules.
 General Court, supra note 12, paras. 180, 182 and 183.
 Ibid., paras. 178, 182, 183, and 237.
 Ibid., paras. 176 and 179.
 Ibid., paras. 176 and 179.
 Ibid., para. 181.
 Ibid., paras. 182-184.
 Ibid., paras. 219-222.
 Ibid., paras. 227.
 Ibid., para. 224.
 Ibid., paras. 232 and 233.
 Ibid., para. 238.
 Ibid., para. 240.
 See Christian Ahlborn, Gerwin Van Gerven, and William Leslie, Bronner Revisited: Google Shopping and the Resurrection of Discrimination Under Article 102 TFEU, 13 J. Eur. Compet. Law Pract. 87 (2022); Friso Bostoen, The General Court’s Google Shopping Judgement Finetuning the Legal Qualification and Tests for Platform Abuse, 13 J. Eur. Compet. Law Pract. 75 (2022), and Hornkohl, supra note 82, arguing that the ruling has resurrected discriminatory abuses as potentially one of the most important tools for regulating the platform economy.
 See Elias Deutscher, Google Shopping and the Quest for a Legal Test for Self-preferencing Under Article 102 TFEU, 6 European Papers 1345, 1348 (2021), arguing that the judgment did not address the fundamental question of how far Article 102 TFEU can interfere with the design choices of dominant firms or prohibit them from granting favorable treatment to their own products or services.
 General Court, supra note 12, para. 196.
 Ibid., para. 187.
 Ibid., para. 245.
 See Bostoen, supra note 103, arguing that, at best, this form of favoritism may be applicable in other cases of prominent display and positioning in searches (e.g., the conduct of Amazon favoring its own retail offers); and Ahlborn, Van Gerven, and Leslie, supra note 103, noting that, in contrast to price discrimination, discriminatory access to an input can encompass a range of factors that are difficult to disentangle (e.g., greater interoperability or preferential access to core services).
 Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, supra note 13.
 Ibid., para. 702, describing Amazon’s conduct as an “abusive pressure.”
 Id., Italian Competition Authority: Amazon Fined over € 1,128 Billion for Abusing Its Dominant Position (2021), https://en.agcm.it/en/media/press-releases/2021/12/A528.
 Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, supra note 13, para. 254.
 Ibid., paras. 253 and 737.
 Ibid., para. 698.
 See C(2020) 7692 Final, European Commission (Nov. 10, 2020). See also Margrethe Vestager, Statement by Executive Vice-President Vestager on Statement of Objections to Amazon for the Use of Non-Public Independent Seller Data and Second Investigation into Its E-Commerce Business Practices (2020), https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_20_2082. See also CMA Investigates Amazon over Suspected Anti-Competitive Practices, U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (2022), https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cma-investigates-amazon-over-suspected-anti-competitive-practices, opening an investigation into how Amazon sets criteria for allocation of suppliers to be the preferred in the Buy Box and how Amazon sets the eligibility criteria for selling under the Prime label. The European Commission is currently evaluating the commitments offered by Amazon (Commission Seeks Feedback on Commitments Offered by Amazon Concerning Marketplace Seller Data and Access to Buy Box and Prime, European Commission (2022) https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_4522). Amazon has committed to apply equal treatment to all sellers when selecting the winner of the Buy Box and to display a second competing offer to the Buy Box winner if there is a second offer that is sufficiently differentiated on price and/or delivery. Both offers will display the same descriptive information and provide for the same purchasing experience. Moreover, regarding Prime, Amazon has committed to set non-discriminatory conditions and qualifying criteria for marketplace sellers and offers, to allow Prime sellers to freely choose any carrier for their logistics and delivery services, and not to use any information obtained through Prime about the terms and performance of third-party carriers for its own logistics services.
 Bundeswettbewerbsbehörde (Jul. 17, 2019), available at https://www.bwb.gv.at/fileadmin/user_upload/Fallbericht_20190911_en.pdf.
 Ibid., para. 81.
 Ibid., para. 87.
 U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, supra note 10, 287-291.
 Ibid., 287-288.
 Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, supra note 13, paras. 236, 504, 710, 716, and 901.
 Ibid., paras. 236, 504, 506, 716, 723, and 810.
 Ibid., paras. 505, 713, 726, 760, 826, 852, 857, and 874. See also Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, supra note 111.
 Id., supra note 13, para. 807.
 Ibid., paras. 127, 136, 188, 614, and 804.
 Ibid., paras. 834-835.
 Ibid., paras. 658-666, 679, and 682.
 Ibid., paras. 805-806.
 Ibid., para. 136.
 Ibid., paras. 506, 609, 610, 680, and 716.
 Ibid., paras. 610, 710, 716, and 723.
 Ibid., para. 710.
 Case AT.40462, Amazon Marketplace, European Commission (Nov. 10, 2020). See also Commission Sends Statement of Objections to Amazon for the Use of Non-Public Independent Seller Data and Opens Second Investigation into Its E-Commerce Business Practices, European Commission, (2020) https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_2077.
 U.K. Competition and Markets Authority, supra note 116.
 U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, supra note 10, 275.
 App Marketplaces: Interim Report, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, (2021), 134, available at https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Digital%20platform%20services%20inquiry%20-%20March%202021%20interim%20report.pdf.
 Case AT.40684, Facebook leveraging, European Commission (Jun. 4, 2021), https://ec.europa.eu/competition/elojade/isef/case_details.cfm?proc_code=1_AT_40684; CMA Investigates Facebook’s Use of Ad Data, U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (2021), https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cma-investigates-facebook-s-use-of-ad-data.
 Case AT.40716, Apple – App Store Practices, European Commission (Jun. 16, 2020).
 DMA, supra note 5, Article 6(1).
 AICOA, supra note 8, Section 3.
 See, e.g., U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, supra note 10, 380. See also Simon P. Anderson and O?zlem Bedre-Defolie, Hybrid Platform Model, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16243 (2021), available at https://cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16243, arguing that the hybrid business model leads to higher platform fees for third-party sellers, less variety on the platform, and lower consumer welfare, compared to when the platform is a pure marketplace. On a different note, see Herbert Hovenkamp, Antitrust and Platform Monopoly, 130 Yale Law J. 1952 (2021), considering structural separation as the worst solution for the problems raised by Amazon’s strategy. See also Andrei Hagiu, Tat-How Teh, and Julian Wright, Should Platforms Be Allowed to Sell on Their Own Marketplaces?, 53 Rand J Econ 297 (2022), arguing that a structural remedy, such as an outright ban on the dual mode, would be detrimental to consumer surplus or total welfare, since the presence of the intermediary’s products constrains the pricing of the third-party sellers on its marketplace. The authors consider preferable policy interventions that target specific behaviors by the platform, such as a ban on product imitation and on self-preferencing.
 European Commission, supra note 134.
 U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, supra note 10, 275.
 Digital Markets Act: Impact Assessment Support Study (Annexes), European Commission (2020), 301-308, https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/2a69fd2a-3e8a-11eb-b27b-01aa75ed71a1/language-en/format-PDF/source-search.
 Ibid., 304.
 See Hagiu, Teh, and Wright, supra note 142, arguing that a ban on product imitation by a platform restores sellers’ incentive to innovate; Erik Madsen and Nikhil Vellodi, Insider Imitation, SSRN (2022) available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3832712, finding that a ban on a platform’s use of marketplace data can either stifle or stimulate innovation, depending on the nature of innovation. Namely, it stimulates innovation only for experimental product categories with significant upside demand potential. On the impact of data usage on consumer welfare, because of the tradeoff between static benefits from lower prices and dynamic costs from lower sellers’ incentives to investment, see Federico Etro, Product Selection in Online Marketplaces, 30 J Econ Manag Strategy 614 (2021).
 See Herbert Hovenkamp, The Looming Crisis in Antitrust Economics, 101 B.U. L. 489, 543 (2021), finding no evidence to suggest that the practice is so prone to abuse or so likely to harm consumers in other ways that it should be categorically condemned: “Rather, it is an act of partial vertical integration similar to other practices that the antitrust laws have confronted and allowed in the past. One close analogy is dual distribution, which occurs when a firm sells through both independent franchisees and its wholly owned stores. Such practices nearly always increase output, benefitting consumers and typically even independent competing firms.” On the different impact of Amazon’s practice on consumer welfare and third-party sellers’ welfare, see also Feng Zhu and Qihong Liu, Competing with Complementors: An Empirical Look at Amazon.com, 39 Strateg. Manag. J. 2618 (2018), finding that Amazon tends to enter into high-quality, popular products sold by third-party merchants and that such entry tends to lower prices and lead to the exit of third-party sellers; and Nan Chen and Hsin-Tien Tsai, Steering via Algorithmic Recommendations, (2021) https://www.tse-fr.eu/sites/default/files/TSE/documents/sem2021/tsai.pdf, arguing that Amazon tends to recommend products sold by Amazon Retail to consumers over products sold by third-party retailers, and that this steering is inconsistent with Amazon promoting consumer welfare.
 Hovenkamp, supra note 142, 2015-2016.
 European Commission, supra note 116.
 See Graef, supra note 18, distinguishing Google Shopping and Amazon Marketplace as pure self-preferencing cases (i.e., primary-line injuries whose key objective is to exclude rivals from the market) from the Italian Amazon Logistics case, which belongs instead to a hybrid category that includes a mix of exploitative and exclusionary elements.
 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, supra note 66, 92.
 Colomo, supra note 15, 418.
 Updating Competition and Consumer Law for Digital Platform Services, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (2022), 85, https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/feedback-sought-on-potential-new-rules-for-large-digital-platforms.
 Tobias Kretschmer, Aija Leiponen, Melissa Schilling, and Gurneeta Vasudeva, Platform Ecosystems as Meta?Organizations: Implications for Platform Strategies, 43 Strateg. Manag. J. 405 (2022).
 Kevin J. Boudreau and Andrei Hagiu, Platforms Rules: Multi-Sided Platforms as Regulators, in (Annabelle Gawer, ed.) Platforms, Markets and Innovation, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing (2009), 163; David Evans, Governing Bad Behavior by Users of Multi-sided Platforms, 27 BTLJ 1201 (2012).
 See Hovenkamp, supra note 17, considering the pending U.S. self-preferencing legislation “an affront to both antitrust policy and intelligent regulatory policy.” See also Geoffrey A. Manne, Against the Vertical Discrimination Presumption, 2 Concurrences 1, 2 (2020), arguing that forcing platforms to allow complementors to compete on their own terms would affect platform incentives for innovation. Indeed, platforms have an incentive to optimize openness and mandating maximum openness is not necessarily optimal because it would disregard the trade-off faced by platforms. Consequently, any presumption of harm from vertical discrimination is not based on sound economics. In a similar vein, Jonathan M. Barnett, The Host’s Dilemma: Strategic Forfeiture in Platform Markets for Informational Goods, 124 Harv. L. Rev. 1861 (2011).
 See Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, supra note 155, 87, arguing that rules might need to be “specifically tailored to each digital platform service with a high level of precision, to target the specific conduct that causes anti-competitive harm.”
 See Patrice Bougette, Axel Gautier, and Fre?de?ric Marty, Business Models and Incentives: For an Effects-Based Approach of Self-Preferencing?, 13 J. Eur. Compet. Law Pract.136, 140 (2022). On the welfare effects of Amazon’s dual role and the welfare implications of proposed regulations, see Germa?n Gutie?rrez, The Welfare Consequences of Regulating Amazon, (2021) available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3965566, showing that interventions that eliminate either the Prime program or product variety are likely to decrease welfare. See also Guy Aridor and Duarte Gonçalves, Recommenders’ Originals: The Welfare Effects of the Dual Role of Platforms as Producers and Recommender Systems, 83 Int. J. Ind. Organ.102845 (2022), highlighting the importance of targeted restrictions on self-preferencing because of the ambiguity of the welfare implications of a policy remedy separating recommendation and production or imposing unbiased recommendations. However, with regards to app stores and device-funded gatekeepers, Jorge Padilla, Joe Perkins, and Salvatore Piccolo, Self-Preferencing in Markets with Vertically Integrated Gatekeeper Platforms, J. Ind. Econ. (forthcoming) find that consumer welfare would be increased by preventing the device seller from selling its own apps and associated services in competition with third-party apps. See also Morgane Cure, Matthias Hunold, Reinhold Kesler, Ulrich Laitenberger, and Thomas Larrieu, Vertical Integration of Platforms and Product Prominence, Quant. Mark. Econ. (forthcoming), studying the potential effects of self-preferencing in the online hotel-booking industry because of the integration between one of the major online travel agencies (Booking Holdings) and a meta-search platform (Kayak). According to their empirical findings, the horizontal ranking of sales channels for a given hotel indicate that sales channels of online travel agents by Booking Holdings are more often position leaders than price leaders and online travel agents affiliated to Booking Holdings have a higher probability than other online travel agents of being among the visible providers and of being the highlighted sales channel. Moreover, for the vertical ranking of hotels for a search request, hotels are ranked worse in the Kayak search results when an online travel agent of the Expedia Group is the cheapest sales channel.
 Colomo, supra note 15, 421; Id., Anticompetitive Effects in EU Competition Law, 17 J. Competition Law Econ. 309, 356 (2021).
 Case C-377/20, Servizio Elettrico Nazionale SpA v. Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, Court of Justice of the European Union (May 12, 2022), EU:C:2022:379.
 Ibid., para. 46.
 CJEU, supra note 20, paras. 133-134.
 CJEU, supra note 162, para. 73.
 Case C?377/20, Servizio Elettrico Nazionale SpA v. Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, Advocate General Rantos (Dec. 9, 2021), EU:C:2021:998, para. 43.
 Ibid., para. 45.
 See CJEU, TeliaSonera, supra note 38; Post Danmark I, supra note 82; Case C-23/14, Post Danmark A/S v. Konkurrencerådet (Post Danmark II), (Oct. 6, 2015), EU:C:2015:651; Intel, supra note 20; Case C-307/18, Generics (UK) and Others v. Competition and Markets Authority (Jan. 30, 2020), EU:C:2020:52; Case C-152/19 P, Deutsche Telekom v. Commission (Mar. 25, 2021) EU:C:2021:238.
 CJEU, supra note 162, paras. 84-85.
 Ibid., para. 75. See also Advocate General Rantos, supra note 166, paras. 48-50, arguing that demonstrating that a dominant undertaking used means other than those that come within the scope of normal competition is not a requirement that needs to be assessed separately from the restrictive effect of the conduct.
 See, e.g., CJEU, MEO, supra note 21, and Post Danmark II, supra note 168. See also Colomo, supra note 161.
 Advocate General Rantos, supra note 166, para. 62.
 Ibid., para. 68 and CJEU, supra note 162, paras. 77-79.
 CJEU, supra note 162, para. 79.
 Case C?23/14, Post Danmark A/S v. Konkurrencerådet, Advocate General Kokott (May 21, 2015), EU:C:2015:343, para. 4.
TOTM President Joe Biden’s nomination of Gigi Sohn to serve on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—scheduled for a second hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee Feb. 9—has been . . .
President Joe Biden’s nomination of Gigi Sohn to serve on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—scheduled for a second hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee Feb. 9—has been met with speculation that it presages renewed efforts at the FCC to enforce net neutrality. A veteran of tech policy battles, Sohn served as counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the time of the commission’s 2015 net-neutrality order.
Read the full piece here.
ICLE Issue Brief The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the resilience of U.S. broadband infrastructure, the extent to which we rely on that infrastructure, and the geographies and communities . . .
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the resilience of U.S. broadband infrastructure, the extent to which we rely on that infrastructure, and the geographies and communities where broadband build-out lags behind. As the extent and impact of the digital divide has been made clearer, there is renewed interest in the best ways to expand broadband access to better serve all Americans.
At ICLE, we would caution policymakers to eschew calls to address the digital divide simply by throwing vast sums of money at the problem. They should, instead, pursue a principled approach designed to encourage entry in new regions, while avoiding poorly managed subsidies and harmful price controls that would discourage investment and innovation by incumbent internet service providers (ISPs). Here is how to do that.
Read the full brief here.
Amicus Brief ICLE supports the appeal filed by ACA Connects et al. seeking review of the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction. As detailed herein, the district court failed to consider economic and empirical realities that militate in favor of finding irreparable harm to the Appellants’ members. Moreover, the same economic and empirical realities tip the balance of equities in favor of the Appellants, and establish that the public interest is in granting a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018.
In 2018, the FCC issued its Restoring Internet Freedom Order, 33 FCC Rcd. 311 (2018) [“2018 Order”], which returned broadband Internet access service (“broadband”) to a classification as a Title I information service. The FCC determined that a “light touch” regulatory regime was necessary to promote investment in broadband. Id. ¶¶ 1-2. While removing the “no-blocking” and “no-throttling” rules previously imposed under the 2015 Open Internet Order, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet, Report and Order on Remand, Declaratory Ruling, and Order, 30 FCC Rcd. 5601 (2015) [“2015 Order”], the FCC also removed the “general conduct” standard—an open-ended regulatory catch-all that would permit the FCC to examine any conduct of broadband providers that it deemed potentially threatening to Internet openness. Cf. 2018 Order ¶¶ 239-245. Yet, notably, the FCC elected to keep a version of the 2015 Order’s transparency rule in place, which requires broadband providers to disclose any blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, or similar conduct. Id.
In retaining the transparency rule, the FCC noted that the FTC and state attorneys general are in a position to prevent anticompetitive consumer harm through the enforcement of consumer protection and antitrust laws. See 2018 Order ¶ 142. Thus, the overarching goal of the 2018 Order was to ensure business conduct which could be beneficial to consumers was not foreclosed by regulatory fiat, as would have been the case under the 2015 Order, while empowering the FCC, FTC, and state attorneys general to identify and address discrete consumer harms.
The Mozilla court noted that the FCC could invoke conflict preemption principles in order to prevent inconsistent state laws from interfering with the 2018 Order. Mozilla Corp. v. FCC, 940 F.3d 1, 85 (D.C. Cir. 2019) (per curiam). Without such preemption, a patchwork of inconsistent state laws would confuse compliance efforts and drive up broadband deployment costs. Cf. Id. Relying as it does on a common carriage approach to regulating the Internet, and fragmenting the regulation of broadband providers between the federal and state levels, SB-822 is at odds with the purpose of the 2018 Order.
The district court found the balance of the equities and the public interest both weighed in favor of California in enforcing SB-822, stating the law “provides crucial protections for California’s economy, democracy, and society as a whole,” Transcript of Proceedings, American Cable Ass’n v. Becerra, No. 2:18 cv-02684 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 23, 2021) (ER-7–78) [“Tr.”], and that a preliminary injunction would “negatively impact the State of California more than [it would benefit] the ISP companies.” Id. at 69. In denying the motion for a preliminary injunction, the court also found the Appellants failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits. Id. at 67.
The district court wrongly concluded the balance of equities tips in favor of Defendant-Appellee, the state of California, and incorrectly assumed that the Appellants’ members would not suffer irreparable harm. The economics underlying broadband deployment, combined with competition and consumer protection law, provide adequate protection to consumers and firms in the marketplace without enforcement of SB-822. And, because of the sovereign immunity provided to California under the Eleventh Amendment, the potential damages suffered by the Appellants’ members are unable to be remedied. On the other hand, the enforcement of this law will significantly harm the Appellants’ members as well as the public by allowing states to create a patchwork of inconsistent laws and bans on consumer welfare-enhancing conduct like zero-rating.
The district court made crucial errors in its analysis when balancing the equities.
First, when evaluating the likelihood of ISPs acting in ways that would reduce Internet openness, it failed to consider the economic incentives that militate against this outcome.
ISPs operate as multi-sided markets—their ability to draw consumers and edge providers on both sides of their platforms depends on behavior that comports with consumer expectations. Both broadband consumers and edge providers demand openness, and there is no reason to expect ISPs to systematically subvert those desires and risk losing revenue and suffering reputational harm. Contrary to the district court’s characterization, the good behavior of ISPs is not attributable to scrutiny during the pendency of the current litigation: rather, it is a rational response to consumer demand and part of a course of conduct that has existed for decades.
Second, the district court discounted the legal backdrop that both would hold ISPs to their promises, as well as prevent them from committing competitive harms.
All of the major ISPs have made public promises to refrain from blocking, throttling, or engaging in paid prioritization. See infra Part I (A) at 17. Further, the FCC’s 2018 Order creates a transparency regime that would prevent ISPs from covertly engaging in the practices SB-822 seeks to prevent. The FTC’s Section 5 authority to prevent “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” empowers that agency to pursue ISPs that make such promises and break them while state attorneys general can also bring enforcement actions under state consumer protection laws. 2018 Order ¶¶ 140-41.
In addition to the consumer protection enforcement noted above, antitrust law provides a well-developed set of legal rules that would prevent ISP’s from engaging in anticompetitive conduct. This would include preventing ISPs from entering into anticompetitive agreements with each other, or with edge providers, that harm competition, as well as prevent anticompetitive unilateral conduct.
In summary, the district court failed to properly balance the equities and, in so doing, sanctioned net harm to the public interest. Both the underlying economic incentives and existing laws ensure ISPs will continue to provide broadband service that meets consumer expectations. By contrast, SB-822, in going further than even the 2015 Order, actually permits a great deal of harm against the public interest by presumptively banning practices, like zero-rating, that increase consumer welfare without harming competition.
TOTM The next chair has an awfully big pair of shoes (or one oversized coffee mug) to fill. Chairman Pai established an important legacy of transparency and process improvement, as well as commitment to careful, economic analysis in the business of the agency.
One of the themes that has run throughout this symposium has been that, throughout his tenure as both a commissioner and as chairman, Ajit Pai has brought consistency and careful analysis to the Federal Communications Commission (McDowell, Wright). The reflections offered by the various authors in this symposium make one thing clear: the next administration would do well to learn from the considered, bipartisan, and transparent approach to policy that characterized Chairman Pai’s tenure at the FCC.
TOTM Pai’s tenure at the FCC was marked by an abiding appreciation for the importance of competition, both as a guiding principle for new regulations and as a touchstone to determine when to challenge existing ones. Perhaps his greatest contribution to bringing competition to the forefront of the FCC’s mandate came in his work on media modernization.
I’m delighted to add my comments to the chorus of voices honoring Ajit Pai’s remarkable tenure at the Federal Communications Commission. I’ve known Ajit longer than most. We were classmates in law school … let’s just say “many” years ago. Among the other symposium contributors I know of only one—fellow classmate, Tom Nachbar—who can make a similar claim. I wish I could say this gives me special insight into his motivations, his actions, and the significance of his accomplishments, but really it means only that I have endured his dad jokes and interminable pop-culture references longer than most.
TOTM Ajit Pai has been, in my view, the most successful, impactful minority commissioner in the history of the modern regulatory state. And it is that success that has led him to become the most successful and impactful chairman, too.
Much of this symposium celebrates Ajit’s contributions as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and his accomplishments and leadership in that role. And rightly so. But Commissioner Pai, not just Chairman Pai, should also be recognized.