Congress Faces Renewed Pressure to ‘Modernize Our Antitrust Laws’

WASHINGTON — When the nation’s antitrust laws were created more than a century ago, they were aimed at taking on industries such as Big Oil.

But technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, which dominate e-commerce, social networks, online advertising and search, have risen in ways unforeseen by the laws. In recent decades, the courts have also interpreted the rules more narrowly.

On Monday, a pair of rulings dismissing federal and state antitrust lawsuits against Facebook renewed questions about whether the laws were suited to taking on tech power. A federal judge threw out the federal suit because, he said, the Federal Trade Commission had not supported its claims that Facebook holds a dominant market share, and he said the states had waited too long to make their case.

The decisions underlined how cautious and conservative courts could slow an increasingly aggressive push by lawmakers, regulators and the White House to restrain the tech companies, fueling calls for Congress to revamp the rules and provide regulators with more legal tools to take on the tech firms.

David Cicilline, a Democrat of Rhode Island, said the country needed a “massive overhaul of our antitrust laws and significant updates to our competition system” to police the biggest technology companies.

Moments later, Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, agreed. He called for lawmakers to adapt antitrust laws to fit the business models of Silicon Valley companies.

This week’s rulings have now put the pressure on lawmakers to push through a recently proposed package of legislation that would rewrite key aspects of monopoly laws to make some of the tech giants’ business practices illegal.

“This is going to strengthen the case for legislation,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It seems to be proof that the antitrust laws are not up to the challenge.”

introduced this month and passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bills would make it harder for the major tech companies to buy nascent competitors and to give preference to their own services on their platforms, and ban them from using their dominance in one business to gain the upper hand in another.

including Lina Khan, a scholar whom President Biden named this month to run the F.T.C. — have argued that a broader definition of consumer welfare, beyond prices, should be applied. Consumer harm, they have said, can also be evident in reduced product quality, like Facebook users suffering a loss of privacy when their personal data is harvested and used for targeted ads.

In one of his rulings on Monday, Judge James E. Boasberg of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Facebook’s business model had made it especially difficult for the government to meet the standard for going forward with the case.

The government, Judge Boasberg said, had not presented enough evidence that Facebook held monopoly power. Among the difficulties he highlighted was that Facebook did not charge its users for access to its site, meaning its market share could not be assessed through revenue. The government had not found a good alternative measure to make its case, he said.

He also ruled against another part of the F.T.C.’s lawsuit, concerning how Facebook polices the use of data generated by its product, while citing the kind of conservative antitrust doctrine that critics say is out of step with the technology industry’s business practices.

The F.T.C., which brought the federal antitrust suit against Facebook in December, can file a new complaint that addresses the judge’s concerns within 30 days. State attorneys general can appeal Judge Boasberg’s second ruling dismissing a similar case.

fined Facebook $5 billion in 2019 for privacy violations, there were few significant changes to how the company’s products operate. And Facebook continues to grow: More than 3.45 billion people use one or more of its apps — including WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger — every month.

The decisions were particularly deflating after actions to rein in tech power in Washington had gathered steam. Ms. Khan’s appointment to the F.T.C. this month followed that of Tim Wu, another lawyer who has been critical of the industry, to the National Economic Council. Bruce Reed, the president’s deputy chief of staff, has called for new privacy regulation.

Mr. Biden has yet to name anyone to permanently lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which last year filed a lawsuit arguing Google had illegally protected its monopoly over online search.

The White House is also expected to issue an executive order this week targeting corporate consolidation in tech and other areas of the economy. A spokesman for the White House did not respond to requests for comment about the executive order or Judge Boasberg’s rulings.

Activists and lawmakers said this week that Congress should not wait to give regulators more tools, money and legal red lines to use against the tech giants. Mr. Cicilline, along with Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the judge’s decisions on Facebook show “the dire need to modernize our antitrust laws to address anticompetitive mergers and abusive conduct in the digital economy.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, echoed their call.

“After decades of binding Supreme Court decisions that have weakened our antitrust policies, we cannot rely on our courts to keep our markets competitive, open and fair,” she said in a statement. “We urgently need to rejuvenate our antitrust laws to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy.”

But the six bills to update monopoly laws have a long way to go. They still need to pass the full House, where they will likely face criticism from moderate Democrats and libertarian Republicans. In the Senate, Republican support is necessary for them to overcome the legislative filibuster.

The bills may also not go as far in altering antitrust laws as some hope. The House Judiciary Committee amended one last week to reinforce the standard around consumer welfare.

Even so, Monday’s rulings have given the proposals a boost. Bill Baer, who led the Justice Department antitrust division during the Obama administration, said it “gives tremendous impetus to those in Congress who believe that the courts are too conservative in addressing monopoly power.”

Facebook and the tech platforms might like the judge’s decisions, he said, “but they might not like what happens in the Congress.”

Mike Isaac contributed reporting.

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In Sweden’s Far North, a Space Complex Takes Shape

KIRUNA, Sweden — The path to the reindeer herder’s spring home took him across four frozen lakes and countless snowy hilltops. Arriving to a light dusting of snow, the herder, Aslak Allas, switched off his snowmobile, and the overwhelming silence of Sweden’s Arctic settled in.

His reindeer, thousands of them, were nowhere to be seen. “They are very scared of noise,” Mr. Allas, explained, pointing to his vehicle.

He then motioned toward the distant hills dotted with birch trees, their buds swelling with the warming spring sun. “Now, the noise coming from there, that will be something else,” Mr. Allas sighed.

SpaceX. He and several competitors are planning to send up to 50,000 such satellites into space in coming years, compared with fewer than 3,000 out there now.

While the United States, China, Russia and several other countries already have spaceports, Sweden’s would be the first orbital launch site for satellites in Europe — capable of launching spacecraft into orbit around Earth or on interplanetary trajectories. Currently, the intergovernmental European Space Agency launches its traditional single-use Ariane rockets from French Guiana.

Several private European companies are designing spaceports in Europe to host a new generation of smaller rockets. Portugal is looking into building one on the Azores Islands, two remote sites have been allocated in Britain and Norway is upgrading its Andoya Space Center.

Esrange Space Center will be a testing ground for Europe’s first reusable vertical rocket in 2022, and it can conduct engine tests as well.

Swedish Space Corporation, which manages the site, is offering launch services to private ventures wishing to send satellites into space.

“We are a bit of a unicorn in the space business,” said Philip Pahlsson, vice president for strategy and innovation of the Swedish Space Corporation, referring to the government ownership of the site. “But we do plan on being the awesomest company in the government’s portfolio.”

being moved, as the city is slowly sinking into the excavated caverns below.

A 50-foot rocket stands at one of the main intersections, a testament to Sweden’s space ambitions. Space is woven into the fabric of the city.

The Swedish Institute of Space Physics is based in Kiruna, as is the Space High School for gifted teenagers. The space engineering program at Lulea University of Technology, also in Kiruna, attracts Ph.D. students from across Europe. An enormous satellite receiver dish, sticking out from the woods in a vast white valley, serves as a geographical landmark.

Esrange has many of the attributes of other space ports — high fences and warning signs, and some used rockets on display. But it also has a church, a visitor center and the Aurora hotel, named for the northern lights that color the winter skies. Snow is everywhere, of course, and reindeer roam the terrain (no one knows how they get past the fences), but astronauts and moon landers are nowhere to be found.

Themis, after an ancient Greek Titaness who was the personification of divine order.

On this day, the main activity consisted of engine testing by two fiercely competitive German space start-ups, Rocket Factory Augsburg and ISAR Aerospace Technologies.

the fastest pod in Elon Musk’s competition for ultra-high-speed transport in hyperloop, or travel in a vacuum tube. That caught the attention of Bulent Altan, a former vice president at Space X, who decided to back Mr. Fleischmann and his friends.

Sami are the last Indigenous people of Europe and live in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia.

In 2019, after an appeal by his district, Mr. Allas managed to block some of the expansion plans for the base, and now his sights are set on the coming noise pollution.

“They might say we need to launch or else we lose our customers, but reindeer herding has been around here long as you can imagine,” Mr. Allas said, adding that a legal battle seemed inevitable. “For us, the Space Corporation is the oldest intruder of our lands, but we have much older rights.”

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