Google Resolution in Sight; Free Market Is Equal Opportunity

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Byline: Orson Swindle, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Recent media reports suggest the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is expected soon to end its 19-month antitrust investigation of Google with a settlement agreement that will exclude the most controversial remedy proposed by the company's competitors and critics: search regulation. While Chairman Jon Leibowitz and I have different philosophies when it comes to antitrust and expanding the reach of the FTC, I have never doubted that we share the goal of protecting consumers in a vibrant, competitive marketplace. If these recent reports are correct, the deal will be a victory for consumers, the tech industry and the FTC.

While I disagree with the approach taken by the FTC in its broad investigation because of potential harm to innovation that such investigations can inflict, it is abundantly clear that the FTC has been extremely thorough, looking at thousands of documents, meeting with the parties multiple times and now, by all accounts, concluding there is no legal case for search bias. Google has earned its status as one of the world's most popular brands. There is nothing illegal about being successful, no matter what Google's rivals say.

Indeed, Google's competitors, led by Microsoft and the FairSearch coalition, have been clamoring for government action against the company for years. To the FTC's credit, it appears this extraordinarily well-funded public relations and lobbying ploy will not bear fruit for FairSearch and its accusation of search bias by Google. In the end, the FTC seems to have recalled the wisdom offered in 1993 by the Supreme Court, which affirmed that the purpose of our antitrust laws is not to protect businesses from the working of the market; it is to protect the public from the failure of the market.

For the FTC, which had to decide whether to push for punitive sanctions on Google, the distinction was crucial. It's the difference between protecting consumers and picking winners and losers among competitors in a vibrantly competitive market. Today, competition flourishes on the Internet, with new companies emerging almost daily to compete for consumers' eyes and clicks. The FTC's decision preserves that competitive environment and sends a clear message that the goal of our nation's antitrust laws remains focused on the welfare of consumers and not on competitive advantages for competitors.

As tidbits of information leak about the details of a potential settlement agreement, Google's rivals already are crying foul (even before the case has concluded), ignoring the exhaustive efforts of the FTC and its findings, and absurdly calling for the Justice Department to launch its own investigation in light of the apparent failure to get the result they wanted through the FTC. …