09 de desembre 2020

Platforms as essential services

Essential Platforms

Competition in Digital Markets 

Imagine you own a company, and you see millions of potential customers for a new product. But there is a problem: all these customers live on the other side of a river and the only way to reach them leads over a privately owned bridge. The owner of that sole bridge either prevents you from passing altogether or charges excessive fees. Long story short, if that is the case, this product line and, potentially, your entire business are doomed.

 Digital platforms can behave in that manner because they do not face serious competition. The platforms’ monopoly power mainly stems from network effects—that means the participation of additional users almost exponentially increases the utility of the network and creates enormous market entry barriers for potential competitors. The characteristics of data and algorithms further foreclose the markets.

 Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and others behave just like the railroads did 100 years ago. Instead of physical infrastructure, like bridges and tunnels, the digital platforms leverage network effects that shield them from effective competition. 

To define the suitable remedies and to open the digital economy for competition, we can learn from the past. In the early twentieth century, the railroads controlled critical infrastructure and excluded competitors from crucial markets. The railroad monopolies rested on enormous investments in physical infrastructure that could not be replicated.

After all these years, a clear message, while the regulator is still on vacation.