Senators Kohl and Lee Urge FTC to Conduct Antitrust Investigation of Google

December 19, 2011. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), the Chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee's (SJC) Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, sent a letter to Jonathan Leibowitz, Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), urging the FTC to conduct a "thorough investigation" of whether Google's actions violate US antitrust law or substantially harm consumers or competition in online search.

They state that they "take no position on the ultimate legality of Google's practices under the antitrust laws and the FTC Act".

They want the FTC to investigate whether Google is using its market share and market power in "general Internet search" to "steer users to its own web products or secondary services and discriminating against other websites with which it competes".

They state that the FTC should investigate whether Google is biasing it search results in favor of its own offerings. They state that "Rather than act as an honest broker of unbiased search results, Google's search results appear to favor the company's own web products and services. Given Google's dominant market share in Internet search, any such bias or preferencing would raise serious questions as to whether Google is seeking to leverage its search dominance into adjacent markets, in a manner potentially contrary to antitrust law." (Footnote omitted.)

Leibowitz is a former long time SJC staff assistant to Sen. Kohl.

Wayner Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) commented in a release that antitrust "is one of the worst forms of arbitrary, unaccountable regulation. A better, productive, job-enhancing investigation would instead be one into how to restrain federal antitrust interventionism generally -- here and in instances such as that leading to the collapse of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger. Clumsy smokestack-era antitrust is an innovation and job killer and has no role in the dynamic Internet economy."

He argued that "the free enterprise solution is to let the marketplace duke it out. Google, like all firms, answers to the media, policymakers, rivals, business partners, infrastructure firms, emerging search technologies, the global marketplace, shareholders, Wall Street and investors. These are the appropriate forms of "regulation" to deal with supposed "search bias" or other alleged harmful behavior."