White House adviser Steve Bannon has reportedly made a push for technology companies like Facebook and Google to be regulated as utilities, the Intercept reported.
Under Bannon’s plan, tech companies that reach a monopoly-like status in their field—Facebook as a social network or Google as a search engine—would be viewed like other natural monopolies like water, sewer systems or railroads — and subjected to utility-style regulations for the public.
By making tech companies utilities, the government would have stronger regulatory power to dictate what the services are able to do and what they are able to charge users but would not provide the government with any direct control over the businesses.
Details of Bannon’s plan are sparse, but one could imagine how a regulatory body may impose certain requirements on one of the major tech firms based on how the government has handled utilities in the past and how other government agencies have approached regulating the services.
Google has already come under fire for providing preferential treatment to sponsored advertisements in its search results. And an agency like the Federal Trade Commission could actually impose and enforce similar restrictions upon the company’s operations in the U.S. if treated as a utility.
Bannon has an unlikely—and likely unwilling—ally in his push. In 2007, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he prefered to think of Facebook as a “ social utility ” rather than a social network—language that he has since stopped using, potentially in an effort to avoid exactly what Bannon is hoping to implement.
Treating tech companies as utilities also wouldn’t necessarily mean all aspects of the company would be regulated. Google, for instance, offers a number of services but its search engine may be treated as a monopoly under the Bannon policy.
Bannon’s suggestion of forcing utility-like regulations upon tech companies seems counterintuitive given his role in the Donald Trump administration. The president appointed Ajit Pai to Chairman of the Federal Communications Commision, and Pai has spent his time in his position of leadership attempting to roll back the decision of the previous administration to regulate the internet as a utility.
Chairman Pai has proposed to undo the decision of former FCC Chairman…