Steve Bannon Has a Good Idea, Not That He’s Going to Do Anything About It

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Steve Bannon. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Top Trump adviser Steve Bannon has come up with a novel idea: According to the Intercept, he thinks that companies with effective monopolies on tech sectors like search (Google) and social networking (Facebook) should be regulated like utilities. He hasn’t come out publicly and said it, presumably because doing so would obviously contradict much of the current Republican stance on technology (that is: deregulate it as much as possible), but he seems to be whispering about it enough that it made its way to print.

From the Intercept:

Bannon’s basic argument, as he has outlined it to people who’ve spoken with him, is that Facebook and Google have become effectively a necessity in contemporary life. Indeed, there may be something about an online social network or a search engine that lends itself to becoming a natural monopoly, much like a cable company, a water and sewer system, or a railroad. The sources recounted the conversations on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give the accounts on record, and could face repercussions for doing so.

Bannon’s thinking about Google and Facebook closely tracks ideas on the left (and some factions of the right) about antitrust, monopoly, and access. If he wanted to push hard for this, he could likely find some bipartisan support in Congress, and certainly among tech activists.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s not going to happen. If the White House were to come out in support of regulating edge providers, it would directly undermine efforts like those of FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who is working on dismantling regulations that classify broadband as a utility, and effectively doing away with net neutrality. In other words, Pai doesn’t want to classify more huge internet companies as utilities; he wants to classify even fewer. One of Pai’s primary arguments (a limp one, at that) has been that the Title II regulations on ISPs are unfair because they don’t also encompass edge providers like Facebook and Google — enormous ecosystems that are also allowed to play favorites in terms of services they offer. His thinking goes that if ISPs and edge providers can’t both be regulated, then neither should be. A proposal like Bannon’s would counteract that entire effort. Bannon’s idea might be good, but Republicans won’t let him torpedo the deregulatory efforts of the FCC, just like they’ll never let him enact the 44 percent top-earner tax rate he’s apparently seeking.

And, look, let’s not pretend that Bannon’s alleged support of tech-monopoly regulation is meant for everyone’s best interests. The fervent nationalist sees tech companies that cross borders and house worldwide user bases as globalist efforts. As New Yorker writer Adrian Chen pointed out, “Breitbart’s line on Facebook is it’s a globalist conspiracy to stamp out conservative speech. Bannon prob wants to ‘regulate’ FB into 4chan.” (Bannon previously served as Breitbart’s chairman.) In other words, using regulation to ensure that tech monopolies can’t muzzle the far right’s horrible stances.

Bannon Has a Good Idea, Not That He’ll Do Anything About It