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A Copyright Masquerade: how corporate lobbying threatens online freedoms

Part 1 Internet, entertainment & copyright;  Part 2  The American influence: ACTA & Ley Sinde (Spain);  Part 3 The Politics of music: Digital Economy Act (Britain)

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Members of the British Parliament have called for Google to be regulated as a dominant player in the Internet industry. The call follows a complaint by a British-based price comparisons company to the European Commission.

 

In debate misleadingly entitled  as ‘Government Policy on Net Neutrality',  British MPs debated whether Google should be regulated in the context of its dominance as a search engine.  But taking a different turn from the usual platitudes of big content companies who complain about Google, in this instance, their concern was for the health of small businesses online, especially those which start up new  services and try to compete againstl  the big search engines.

 The debate was prompted by the complaint by a British company, Foundem, to the European Commission DG Competition.  Foundem operates a price-comparison service for online shopping. According to the MP Dominc Raab, Conservative Member for Esher and Walton,  Foundem has alleged that Google downgraded its search results, and acted anti-competitively  in a way which was financially negative for Foundem.  

 Mr Raab said that  the effect was to suppress Foundem  in Google search results. Mr Raab pointed out that the alleged treatment of Foundem would be sufficient to bury and kill off many businesses.  He accused Google of deliberately

"stacking the deck" against small competitors and called for government policy to address what he called ‘search engine transparency'.

 

Mr Raab accused the regulators, Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading, of complacency. He called on them to take action against companies abusing dominance.  " Search engines are the gateways to the Internet, and with a 95% share, Google is in a dominant position"

 "If Google does not allow consumers to access potential competitors via its search engine gateway, they will be choked out of the market-place" he said.

 Phillip Lee, member for Bracknell, pointing out that 90 per cent of Britons use Google to find things online, accused Google of suppressing the growth of a business based in his consitutuency. " I don't think that one company having that much power is good for industry

 

The debate  was interesting because the problems of small businesses get very little coverage,  but actually entrepreneurial start-ups are   vital not just for the continued growth the of the Internet, but for the economy in general.  This debate, recognised that the ability of small businesses  to compete online is  important, and highlighted as an issue for policy-makers. However, what was also good about the debate was that they recognised that is not simply black and white, and that Google  also does provide opportunities for small business. The point was that it should also not be permitted to abuse its market dominance.

 

"Free markets require robust competition and there is no place for cartel abuse, " he   said.   

 

Ed Vaizey, the Minister responsible, gave his support to Foundem, but declined to take any further action  because the issue is with DG Competition. He did however, say that the openness of both the fixed and mobile networks is fundamental to the future of the Internet.

 

   Mr Vaizey is still trying to dig himself out of  a political hole on the matter of the open Internet,  after he was severely critised last year for underlining the Ofcom and industry position which supports  a 2-tier Internet.

   Ofcom is known to be industry-cuddly, taking  an anti-net neutrality, pro-traffic management  stance, and will do nothing to support small businesses.

 

    Google is known to have personal access to David Cameron, and is understood to be influencing British policy outside the usual processes. Which is why the Foundem case, and its outcome will particularly interesting.

 

Here is a link to the debate, but  it is  incorrectly reported by the BBC which describes standard net neutrality patter  and says nothing of the actual content. MPs debate UK Net Neutrality.

 

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The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2011) Calls for controls on Google in UK Parliament http://www.iptegrity.com 22 March 2011

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed.

Iptegrity resumes

I am resuming Iptegrity after a long break  - the first I had in  7 years of writing this blog. I extended my time out after I sprained my wrist in August, when  I had a little  brush with carpal tunnel syndrome. It has been worth the patience to let it heal, and I'd recommend to all my readers to look after your wrists, and do listen to ergonomic advice.

I am also working on a new book - updates on progress will appear here over the coming months.

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten,  policy writer and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She is an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on Cross-border flow of Internet traffic and Internet freedom (MSI-INT). She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012. Iptegrity  offers expert insights into Internet policy. Iptegrity is read by lawyers, academics, policy-makers and citizens, and cited in the media. Please acknowledge Iptegrity when you cite or link.  For more, see IP politics with integrity

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