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.
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 .
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