Collins: Queen’s Speech Is ‘Perfect Opportunity’ To Fix Online Competition Laws

Legislation empowering the Digital Markets Unit to level the playing field between news publishers and the tech platforms should be included in the Queen’s Speech next month, Damian Collins MP has said.

In a piece for The Times this week, Mr Collins (pictured), former chair of the DCMS select committee and the Online Safety Bill joint committee, said reform to promote greater competition and innovation and protect consumers and businesses from unfair practices was urgently needed as Google and Facebook increase their dominance in the digital advertising ecosystem.

Mr Collins said: “When the government launched its white paper consultation on the DMU last year, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, acknowledged that ‘there is a growing international consensus that the concentration of power in a handful of the largest digital companies is crowding out competition by erecting entry barriers for other firms. That is bad for digital markets, it is bad for businesses, and it is bad for consumers.’

“I agree, and this is why I believe the government bill required to empower the DMU should be included in Queen’s Speech next month, which sets out the legislative programme for the coming year.

“Digital competition is also a big problem for the future of journalism. News media providers, which make money by placing ads, are between a rock and a hard place: they depend on digital ad marketplaces such as the Google Ad Exchange to sell ad-space on news websites; but they also directly compete against online services, such as Facebook, Google and YouTube, as locations where brands can place their ads.

“The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has highlighted that Google has been giving its own platforms a better deal, by withholding data from competitors, and the Texas state attorney general revealed the existence of a secret pact, called Jedi Blue, a quid pro quo deal whereby Facebook agreed not to challenge Google’s advertising business in return for a very special treatment in Google’s ad auctions.

“We’re lucky in the UK to have a bold competition regulator, which isn’t afraid to investigate these shenanigans. Ultimately, our Competition and Markets Authority, and its new Digital Markets Unit, are going to need new powers to identify and act on abuses of market power.

“Search engines, social networks, app stores, online shops and cloud computing are all individual marketplaces that deserve scrutiny. The upcoming Queen’s Speech, I hope, will set the UK on the way to do this.”

MPs including chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Julian Knight and peers have called for the legislation to be included in the Queen’s Speech following reports it will be delayed. 

The News Media Association coordinated an unprecedented coalition across the UK media sector, including commercial news and magazine brands, broadcasters, radio outlets, online publishers, book and journal publishers, Channel 4, ITN and the BBC, called on government to bring forward the legislation early in the next Parliamentary session.