A Make or Break Moment for Local Solutions — Episode 126 of Building Local Power

Date: 13 May 2021 | posted in: Building Local Power | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In this episode of Building Local Power, host Jess Del Fiacco is joined by Maren Machles, Senior Researcher and Multimedia Producer for ILSR’s Community Broadband initiative; Ron Knox, Senior Researcher for ILSR’s Independent Business initiative; and Neil Seldman, Director of ILSR’s Waste to Wealth initiative. They discuss recent news as it relates to each of their programs, and how upcoming policy decisions could have major ramifications on local-level solutions.

Highlights include:

  • How local efforts in Franklin County, Ohio to close the digital divide could be used as a model by other communities.
  • The ongoing debate around Extended Producer Responsibility in recycling legislation, and why we must localize recycling and reuse programs in order to make real progress.
  • Lina Khan’s nomination to the Federal Trade Commission and what it means for the future of that federal antitrust enforcement.
  • What we can expect from antitrust bills that will be introduced by Congressman David Cicilline, Chair of the House Judiciary’s Antitrust Subcommittee.

 

“The American public and businesses, and governments, are in the middle between one set of monopolies that produces everything we eat and use, et cetera, and on the other side is a big set of monopolies that takes the stuff away and we pay both times. So, as we all know, the Institute is fighting the monopolies on both ends of the scale.”

 

“It feels like a precipice; things could go well or things could not go well, so we’ll see what happens. But the two questions that were really on the mind of antitrust and anti-monopoly folks going into the new year and going into the new administration was, one, who would the Biden administration appoint to lead the antitrust agencies… And then what legislation was going to get introduced in the house and the senate to amend, strengthen, reinforce the antitrust laws… We have a little bit of clarity now I think, on both of those points.”

 

Jessica Del Fia…: Hello and welcome to Building Local Power, a podcast dedicated to thought provoking conversations about how we can challenge corporate monopolies and expand the power of people to shape their own future. I’m Jess Del Fiacco, the host of Building Local Power and communications manager here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. For more than 45 years, ILSR has worked to build thriving, equitable communities where power, wealth, and accountability remain in local hands. So today, if you remember a few months ago, we did a prediction episode where we were looking at what might come in 2021 for federal policy and local policy, as it relates to our different program areas and antitrust in general. So I am joined by a few of my colleagues, Maren, who works on our Broadband team, Ron, who works on our Independent Business team and Neil who works on our Waste Wealth team. We’re all going to share what they’ve seen happening so far this year, and any changes that they see coming down the line. So with that, welcome everybody.
Neil Seldman: Thank you. Nice to be here.
Ron Knox: Hey Jess, thanks.
Jessica Del Fia…: And Marin, maybe you can start us off by just giving us a brief overview of what’s happening with broadband right now at the federal level. Biden’s been talking about it a lot, so what’s happening?
Maren Machles: Yeah. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of money currently that’s being talked about being invested in broadband, especially community networks across the country. The one thing that I think our team and a number of other people in this space are trying to stress is that, the conversation generally around broadband access tends to be more focused in rural areas, but there’s a huge need in urban areas. Maybe not as much with access, but actually affordability; if something’s there, but you can’t afford it, it’s still not accessible. So really trying to address that. And I think that’s what we’re trying to work on right now.
Jessica Del Fia…: Do you see that present in conversations that are already happening in the policy world, or is that something that we’re trying to push into those conversations?
Maren Machles: I mean, I’m not as much of an expert about what’s happening nationally, but I would say that in general, cities are trying to express what they need to feed legislators and federally, I think that there is an interest in talking about it, but the conversation always goes back to who doesn’t have appropriate broadband? So I think it’s trying to balance those two things, because there is still need in rural areas, and there’s still need in smaller towns that maybe actually have broadband, but they’re not getting the service that the incumbents are advertising.
Jessica Del Fia…: Yeah. And I’m sure, I mean, the last year obviously made that more clear for everyone, if it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough. I know you’ve been tracking what’s happening in a county in Ohio, which is some really interesting stuff. And I’m sure you’ve seen things happening other places where cities have in the last year just been like, “We’re fed up, we’re going to do something about it,” and now they have a chance to get a little bit more funding. Could you talk about what’s happening in Ohio and maybe any other stories you want to lift up?
Maren Machles: Yeah. I mean, I think what’s happening in Ohio is particularly really interesting. So Franklin County, which is in central Ohio, and is the county that Columbus sits in, which is the capital of the state, has put together, basically this digital equity coalition where they’ve come up with a number of different pilot programs to get broadband access to different communities in the county through a variety of different ways. But the one that’s really interesting to me, and I think is this newer model, is these two pilot programs that they’re trying to do in Columbus. And they are actually in two neighborhoods that have been historically redlined. And they’ve had the impacts of the Highway Act back in the 60s and a number of different economic waves of oppression to be honest, that have led to broadband being inaccessible to them and not affordable.
Maren Machles: So the two programs actually are pilot programs to potentially scale up and be something that could go throughout the county, and even, an example for other cities across the country. And it’s $15 a month for, I think it’s 50 symmetrical, I’m not totally sure. But $15 a month, that is doable. I think a lot of people would assume that $50 a month, that’s a standard price for internet access, but a lot of families can’t afford to do that, especially when there’s an option to just use mobile devices. But mobile devices don’t work for homework, for working remotely, so this is actually a chance for people especially during the pandemic, to be able to access distance learning, and access working remotely.
Jessica Del Fia…: And it’s not at the lowest possible tier of service too, right? We’re not talking about, maybe you can join a video call if no one else is in your household, right? This is actually functional and usable for the everyday things you need to do with it.
Maren Machles: Exactly, multiple users in the same household can do things at the same time. So families can do this. And what’s really interesting about this program is that they actually overlaid Columbus Public School data with where the city already had its own fiber network, and the public school maps showed the students who weren’t logging on to classes as often. So they’re actually trying to access the students that don’t have access. They’re trying to reach the students that don’t have access and give them internet service. And so that means that they’re families. So these are people that live in households with multiple people using devices, and have multiple needs.
Jessica Del Fia…: So I’m just curious, because I assume this is a model that other communities could learn from and use themselves, but is there any particular ingredients that made it happen here? Was it just especially passionate community leaders or electeds who were listening and willing to put money behind it, what got it off the ground?
Maren Machles: So there have been different stakeholders in Ohio that have been interested in trying to address this issue for a while, but many communities that we’ve been reporting on or we’ve been covering, the pandemic had a huge role in pushing things off the ground a little bit more. But the thing that made them successful was that the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, which ended up being a co-chair for the coalition, had already started making all of these connections and networking with other people that were trying to be focused on digital equity in Ohio and in the region in the county. And so when the pandemic hit, they were able to really create this coalition within a matter of months to act and come up with ideas for how to solve this distributing hotspots and distributing Chromebooks. Come up with all of these different ways to make sure not only that people could access the internet, but that they had digital literacy. And so I think they have 30 different organizations that are in this coalition and they’re all helping with different aspects of it, really is what makes it as strong as it is.
Jessica Del Fia…: Very cool. So it sounds like a lot of exciting things are happening in the broadband space right now.
Maren Machles: Yeah. It’s crazy.
Jessica Del Fia…: Thanks. We’re going to go on to Neil, and I know Neil things are a little bit more complicated policy-wise for you right now. So what I wanted to start with was asking you about the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, and what’s good about it, and then what are your concerns with this particular piece of policy?
Neil Seldman: Let me start by saying how Marin started, that is, a lot of money is at stake here at the federal level. And things are coming to a head as to how this money is going to be spent. I want to mention that the Institute along with several allies, including Zero Waste USA and the National Recycling Coalition have put together a sign-on letter to the administration entitled Recycling is Infrastructure Too, T-O-O, in which we are making the point that the dollars should be set aside for solid waste recycling composting infrastructure. And there are several bills that have a good deal of potential investment in infrastructure; there’s a jobs bill, an infrastructure bill, even the clean seas bill has aspects dealing with solid waste management.
Neil Seldman: Now, to get back to the breaking free from plastic bill, it’s very controversial. In some ways the bill would undermine the last 50 years of grassroots recycling because it would turn over the recycling system, the entire industry to the big players, mostly the big soda companies; Pepsi Coke, and also Nestle’s, the water company, as well as the Fortune 500 packaging companies. And their argument is that recycling has failed, cities don’t know what to do, if they did know what to do, they didn’t have the money to do it. And the only way to salvation is to give us everything, and we’ll take care of everything for you. It reminds me of my history class, Ben Franklin, “Anyone who exchanges freedom for security deserves either one of them.” And I think that’s what we’re seeing, where the grassroots movement has moved the country to 35% recycling up until the turn of the century in the 2000s or so.
Neil Seldman: Then the big waste systems took over and we’d stagnated at 35% ever since. We took a dip to 32% in 2019, mainly because the big waste would not listen to China. China kept telling them that they’re going to stop taking their stuff because it’s so contaminated from their single stream processing, and they said that in 2013. By 2018, they said, “We’re serious,” and they cut off American imports which led to a very big decline in recycling. It’s funny because that bill that threatens the last 50 years of grassroots organizing is also a bill that has the necessary ingredients to pick up where we left off in the year 2000. In fact, I just completed an article, which I’ll forward to everyone, in which I list out the sources of revenue to move from 35% recycling to 70% recycling, and the new rules that need to be implemented to shore up the decision-making at the local level.
Neil Seldman: And the irony is that the breaking free from plastic bill which threatens to turn everything over to the industry, also has clauses that are very acceptable to grassroots recycling, and that is, tax the companies but the money doesn’t stay with them, the money goes to cities and counties where citizens and local government have determined how to do the recycling and economic development. In other words, extended producer responsibility is a polluter-pays system, whereas big industry is trying to turn it into a polluter-controlled system. And that’s the battle. And it’s a basic democratic issue because, we have recycling today because grassroots people organized very effectively, started their own recycling systems, and then when they got big enough, petitioned cities to take over, which they did. But as I said around the year 2000, they fell victim to the big companies and changed their systems.
Neil Seldman: The key items that we would like to see survive in the breaking free from plastic bill, there’s a moratorium on virgin plastic manufacturing. There’s a national bottle bill, well, there’s a danger there because there are privatized bottle bills that favor industry, and there are government bottle bills that favor inclusiveness. But there were other technical things; minimum content, banning of single use plastics, et cetera. But the best parts of the bill, is that it recognizes that environmental justice and racial justice are a core policy determinant, and that policies have to take into account those incredibly important issues in order to move forward. And in fact, we say at the Institute, as well as many other groups in this field, that if you don’t have environmental and racial justice, you can never achieve zero waste, which is our ultimate goal. We define zero waste as diverting 90% or more from the current waste stream into useful materials, products, et cetera, compost, as well.
Neil Seldman: As is always, it’s the best of times and the worst of times for recyclers, we’re on a precipice of moving forward, we’re also on a precipice of falling back. So it’s fascinating times. The Institute is working with a whole number of groups across the country to get our point across. The country is being subjected to a very sophisticated and well-financed lobbying campaign on behalf of the big corporations. Oddly enough, there are many environmental organizations that are going along with them, which makes the debate both interesting and more than interesting, it’s a flection point on recycling in the United States. I’ll end the segment by pointing out that I will forward an article with a detailed graphic that institute staff has been helping me with, it shows both the history up until 2021, and then our projections through 2050 on what would happen if the investment we’ve just been talking about is made in the proper manner.
Jessica Del Fia…: All right. We’ll definitely link to that in the show notes for this episode. I don’t know, this might be too big of a question, but I’m wondering, why exactly the big waste monopolies are such an attractive option for other environmental groups. I mean, is it this perception that cities don’t want to deal with recycling, or that the local scale solutions aren’t as efficient. What is it? Or is it just that they’re there and they have powerful lobbyists, those people are like, “Well, sounds good.”
Neil Seldman: This gets very complicated because the big waste companies are not for EPR. And that’s because EPR would require a whole new set of organizations, negotiations, contracts with the Fortune 500 big soda companies. Big waste controls the system, they don’t want to see any change. They love what’s going on, and they look at their stock prices, they’re soaring, the world is made for them. It’s nice to be a monopolist in the US economy. So they like what’s going on, they don’t mind extended producer responsibility for hard to recycle materials, mattresses, batteries, mercury switches, et cetera, but when it comes to the traditional recyclables, big waste does not want anyone to touch the system. So that’s another dynamic, if you will. The American public and businesses, and governments, are in the middle between one set of monopolies that produces everything we eat and use, et cetera, and on the other side is a big set of monopolies that takes the stuff away and we pay both times. So, as we all know, the Institute is fighting the monopolies on both ends of the scale.
Neil Seldman: It is complicated. And in fact, it’s strange to have the Institute and the big waste companies agreeing on what to do, but in fact, believe it or not, these monopolies complain about other monopolies. I mean, this is Kafkaesque and phantasmagoric if you want to go back to an old word from the 1800s. The bottom line is that everything is up in the air now, I just heard an optimistic analysis from one of our close allies, Ruth Abbe, from Zero Waste USA who pointed out that the positive outcome would be that the breaking free from plastic bill does not go anywhere in this congress, which is very possible given the confusion at the congress. And that the better parts of the bill will be broken out and added to other good bills, like the jobs bill, the infrastructure bill, et cetera, and that the grassroots recyclers and local governments will get the steady flow of revenue that they need from a municipal reimbursement. But we will retain the right to vote to determine how you recycle at the local level, which has carried recycling, as I said, for the past 50 years. It’s interesting times in the recycling sector, within the interesting times of what’s going on in the national economy and the national politics, which is unprecedented for all of us, no one’s ever gone through this before.
Jessica Del Fia…: We’ll continue on with this conversation in just a minute, but first we’re going to take a short break. Thank you for listening to Building Local Power. If you’re enjoying this conversation, I hope we you’ll consider heading over to ilsr.org/donate to help support our work. Any donation you make there directly supports this podcast, and it makes possible the amazing work happening thanks to folks like Neil, Ron, and Marin throughout our programs. You can visit ilsr.org/donate to make a contribution today. Any amount is sincerely appreciated. Yeah. So it does feel, I think the theme of this conversation is that we are on a bit of a precipice, could go either way. Now we can turn to Ron who has a long list of news from the anti-monopoly world I’m sure that he could share, that all fits within that. So Ron, I don’t know what you want to start with, maybe talking about Lina Khan’s recent nomination?
Ron Knox: Yeah, that sounds great. And yes, I mean, I completely agree that as we get into the new administration, and things begin to change one way or the other, it feels like a precipice; things could go well or things could not go well, so we’ll see what happens. But the two questions that were really on the mind of antitrust and anti-monopoly folks going into the new year and going into the new administration was, one, who would the Biden administration appoint to lead the antitrust agencies, that’s the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. And then what legislation was going to get introduced in the house and the senate to amend, strengthen, reinforce the antitrust laws, what that legislation was going to look like, and ultimately what would it accomplish? So those were the big questions. We have a little bit of clarity now I think, on both of those points, not complete clarity, but a little bit. The main thing is we know now that the Biden administration has nominated Lina Khan to become a commissioner on the FTC. She had her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, ILSR supported Lina’s nomination, and we continue to support her confirmation process by the senate. And we do expect that’s ultimately going to happen.
Ron Knox: Lina’s nomination and ultimately her confirmation to the FTC is a crucial step really towards rebuilding that agency, towards rebuilding the FTC. It’s an agency with unbelievable power to really reign in monopolies across the economy, to create a more equitable economy, to deconcentrate markets. It’s never quite lived up to that potential for various reasons, right? The closest it got was in the 1970s, when it brought a bunch of really interesting cases that would have, for example, broken up the three or four big cereal companies, that would have broken up the oil companies that collectively dominate the market. But all that was washed away by the Carter administration, ultimately the Reagan administration, as they embarked on this neo-liberal program, embraced the consumer welfare standard, as we say, in the anti-trust world, and so on.
Ron Knox: So Lina’s nomination to the FTC is huge because it really signals that we are finally going to put that air behind us. And we’re going to now re-embrace our really vibrant anti-monopoly history and traditions, and we’re going to actually enforce the laws. So you watch her hearing and you see a few things, a few things were made extraordinarily clear, at least to me. One, her expertise, right? So there have been a few critiques of her experience, right? She would be the youngest FTC commissioner in history, okay? So you hear from pro-monopoly folks, from corporate lawyers, they say, “She’s too young, she’s too inexperienced.” Here’s the reality, here’s her actual resume, right? She’s a Columbia University law professor. She’s a former commission official, worked in the office of current Commissioner Rohit Chopra. She was counseled to the antitrust house subcommittee, the subcommittee that did the big tech investigation and released the report in the fall last year. She was the driving force behind that really blockbuster report that exposed the monopoly abuses of all the big tech companies. And she’s the author of arguably the most important antitrust paper in the last half century or more. Okay. So she’s important, and she’s more than qualified for this.
Ron Knox: So then during her hearing, you could also see her vision for what the agency should be, and what it could do. So her nuanced understanding of both the issues that affect the economy right now, the monopoly power that courses through the economy and that distorts our markets, and the FTC’s authority to combat those issues, she made all of that really, really clear. The other thing I want to point out real quickly about the hearing, is how there was this really incredible moment in the hearing where a Republican senator asked her about a concurrent ruling written by supreme court Justice Clarence Thomas. Who I think by some objective standard, is the most conservative Justice on the court. And Clarence Thomas was writing about social media companies, and about whether our big social media monopolies should be governed by common carrier rules. So that there’s no discrimination, they can’t discriminate against… It was nominally about speech, but there was a really interesting quote from Clarence Thomas and it said, “We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure, such as digital platforms.”
Ron Knox: That’s a huge quote, and it’s, again, the most conservative justice on the court. Lina Khan gets asked about this and she agrees. She says, “I think that’s probably right. I think that’s part of the suite of things that we’re going to have to use in order to reign in the monopoly power of the big tech companies.” It’s just this incredible moment of bipartisanship and the way that these monopoly issues and the monopoly power in our economy really cuts through politics, and it gets to the core of the democracy, and what we want the country and the economy to look like. So anyway, very, very interesting moment in there, so we’re excited about Lina Khan. And we’re supporting her confirmation, which we think is going to happen. Real quick legislation update, there are bills now that have been introduced in the senate. I want to talk about a couple, there are more than two, but I think two are interesting. One was introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, the other introduced by Senator Josh Hawley. And they’re different, and the differences are interesting, at least they’re interesting to me.
Ron Knox: So Amy Klobuchar’s bill, what does it do? It’s a huge bill. It’s the kind of sweeping, I don’t want to use the term omnibus because there’s some stuff it doesn’t quite cover, but it’s a sweeping bill, certainly. And one of the main things it does is to change the language of our antitrust laws surrounding mergers. And when and why we, we as in the people, should permit mergers to happen when they risk harm to competition. So right now the statutory language says that a merger should be blocked if it’s substantially lessens competition. Okay. So for the past half century, judges have used that language to justify an incredibly high bar for the government or for other plaintiffs to prove that a merger should be blocked because it could harm competition, because it can harm the market. And that’s obviously been bad, I’m sure the listeners of this podcast understand, but there are highly concentrated markets all over the economy and they’re very bad and there are bad outcomes, okay, and a lot of it has to do with these mergers. Her bill would change the language to say, “An appreciable risk.” So a merger could be stopped if there was an appreciable risk that it would harm competition, or that it would substantially lessen competition.
Jessica Del Fia…: So that difference there, okay, it’s just that tiny, it’ll do much harm versus some harm, right?
Ron Knox: Well, it’s like, you don’t have to prove that it’s going to harm, because how can you prove a future thing? I mean, that’s where the hang up has been. You don’t have to prove the harm, you just have to show that there is an appreciable risk that that harm can happen. Okay. So that language is supposed to be a big waving red flag to judges to say like, “You cannot permit these merge. If there’s a chance that it’s going to harm competition. You’ve just got to say no, and you have to rule in favor of the plaintiffs in this case.” So it’s interesting, but that’s not structural and it’s not bright lined, you’re still leaving it up to judges to figure this out. And as we know, judges and federal courts across the country, have by in large bought into the consumer welfare standard. And so it’s interesting.
Ron Knox: The other thing it would do which is really interesting, is that it would shift the burden of proof for mergers. So any buyer in a merger, so you have an acquirer and the acquired company. So the acquiring company, if it’s worth more than $100 billion, that’s like market cap, it would have to prove that the merger is pro-competitive rather than what happens now, which is that the government or the plaintiff has to prove that the deal would hurt competition. So it’s this shift in these scales, this tilting of the scales where it puts all of the burden on the merging companies to show that this is going to be okay. Again, it leaves the ultimate decisions about these things in the hands of judges, but it changes things.
Ron Knox: Josh Hawley’s bill, let’s move on to that, it’s called Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century. It’s also, not omnibus, but it’s a big, robust bill. And it treats these issues a little bit differently. So rather than shifting the burden of proof in a merger case onto the companies, it just says you can’t do it. So it would put in place an outright ban on any merger in which the acquiring company, the buyer has a market cap of more than $100 billion. And we’re talking about more or less the 150 biggest companies in the S&P 500. Certainly, it includes all the tech companies that are right at the top of that list. That’s a structural bright line, you cannot do this no longer, you can’t buy a candy bar without filing with the government and the government now, according to the law just says, “No.”
Neil Seldman: Can I ask a question?
Ron Knox: Yeah.
Neil Seldman: I could wait if you want to keep going but-
Ron Knox: No, go on.
Neil Seldman: This guy Hawley is a Conservative, right?
Ron Knox: Yeah.
Neil Seldman: Yeah. Okay. I know I’m on his-
Ron Knox: He is a Conservative, he’s extraordinarily controversial for good reason. And I don’t want to go too far down-
Neil Seldman: I don’t want to talk about that at all but-
Ron Knox: Yeah, I don’t want to go deeper down there, but it does bring into question the likelihood that his bill goes anywhere.
Neil Seldman: Yeah. My point is that it seems as if the Conservative bill, Hawley, is more radical or more forceful than the other bill which I presume comes from a Democrat, is that a correct takeaway from this?
Ron Knox: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s correct. Hawley’s bill does taken in a silo without all of the baggage associated with Josh Hawley attached to it. It is a forceful bill, it is very forceful. And it would create what I think, a lot of judges will have to have in order to reinvigorate an antitrust enforcement, which is bright line clear rules.
Neil Seldman: Very helpful.
Ron Knox: Yeah, no problem. So it leaves a lot out, there are lots of big names that don’t fall into that 100 billion dollar cap threshold; GlaxoSmithKline, Uber, General Motors. All these companies would still have their day in court so to speak, to get mergers done, but it creates this bright line rule. The other interesting thing it does is for any company found guilty of breaking the monopoly laws, the actual clause’s section two of the Sherman Antitrust Act, which is the one that governs monopoly conduct, any company found guilty of that would be forced to disgorge all of its profits that stemmed from the violation, right? I mean, look, let’s say that Google is found to have broken the law, because it’s being sued right now for breaking a monopoly law. And let’s say it’s found to have broken the law, and let’s say it’s violation stemmed from self-preferencing in its core search product. The bar that we put words into every single day, and everyone does all over the world, and it’s like the money printer for Google, and you have to disgorge those profits? What are we talking about? I mean, what’s the number that could be attached to that. So I don’t know the answer, but someone with a really big calculator is going to have to figure that thing out, you know what I mean?
Ron Knox: So it’s very, very interesting. I don’t know that that bill will go anywhere, but I think that the actual material of the bill, the stuff that’s included in it, is fascinating and really, really good to think about. And to think about, not only, the way that it could help with law enforcement, but the way that it could potentially help dissuade companies from breaking the law in the first place, because you wouldn’t want to have to go through that. Just a little bit of a future spin, the thing we’re looking for now are bills on the house side. And we know that Congressman David Cicilline, who is the chair of the House Judiciary’s Antitrust Subcommittee, is planning to introduce several bills. I don’t know how many, but several bills that would each individually amend various parts of the antitrust laws pertaining to mergers, to dominant behavior, to big tech platforms, and so on.
Ron Knox: We’re expecting those anytime now. It’s going to be a flurry, they’re going to be introduced one after the other. And it’ll be fascinating to see what those contain, where they go, and how those end up dovetailing with what’s going on. on the senate side to hopefully get to the place where there’s some legislation that can actually be passed and reach the president’s desk. So we’re all waiting. And also we don’t know who is going to be the other… There’s one more opening on the Federal Trade Commission, we don’t know who that’s going to be yet. And we don’t know who’s going to be in charge of antitrust enforcement over at the Department of Justice, so plenty of stuff remaining to be seen.
Jessica Del Fia…: So do you have any… I mean, I know you don’t know what will be in the bills, but do you have any thoughts on particular things they might contain just based on what was in the findings in their report, or conversations that have been happening?
Neil Seldman: Yeah, really good question. So the Big Tech antitrust report that came out in October last year, 450 page major report, contained a lot of recommendations for how the law could be changed or what should happen basically to reign in the monopoly power, both of those companies and then, I think, in general in the economy. One of the main recommendations in that report was structural separation to end conflicts of interest among the Big Tech companies. So the big example of that is Amazon, right? And the idea is that Amazon controls the monopoly online retail marketplace, where small businesses are forced to go in order to reach customers, they have to sell there. But then Amazon is also a retailer itself, it sells its own products. So it built the playing field, it wrote the rule book, and then it also plays the game, and that’s not fair. There’s some inherent conflicts of interest there. So the idea is that if you separate the company along those business lines, that you’re going to ultimately solve the problem without a bunch of regulation, without a lot of government monitoring or things like that.
Neil Seldman: So that was the big recommendation in the report. I think you could easily see that kind of thing included in one of these bills. There were other recommendations around this idea of abuse of dominance, which would essentially broaden the anti-monopoly statute to include other kinds of behavior. And to set, again, some bright line threshold limits on market power and on market share of certain markets, you could certainly see something around there. And then I would imagine bills that would match or in some ways mirror what’s already been introduced in the senate, including structural limits on some kinds of mergers and so on.
Jessica Del Fia…: Also exciting stuff. Thank you. I’m really curious to see what our conversation might look like if we do another one of these episodes in three months or six months, since all these things are kind of like, lots of things are happening, what direction will they go? I think we are running out of time, but I did want to ask you guys, well, first of all, is there anything else that anyone else wants to say that you wanted to fit into this conversation?
Neil Seldman: I want to thank you for doing this because I like the idea that three different programs are basically addressing the same issue. Oddly enough, we are coming to the same conclusion in each of our fields, it’s going to be touch and go for the next six months or so, probably longer than that. So my response is, thank you for doing this.
Jessica Del Fia…: Of course. And then my last question was, do any of you have any reading recommendations for our listeners?
Neil Seldman: Yeah. Very briefly I would recommend that the institute Zero Waste USA-NRC infrastructure letter to President Biden. It’s a good summary of what we’re asking for, and I would recommend that, and it’s only two pages so it shouldn’t burden people.
Ron Knox: I’ll give some, first of all, reading recommendations. I’m currently reading Barry Lynn’s new book. Barry Lynn is the, I believe executive director is the title, over at Open Markets Institute. And his book is called Liberty from All Masters, which sounds like the name of a heavy metal album, but it is instead the name of an extremely good book that I’m enjoying very much. And then I know our listeners can’t see this, we’re on a zoom call, I’m just going to hold it up so everyone on the call can see it. I’ve got Amy Klobuchar’s new book in my hands, it’s called, Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age. And I’ve cracked that open already and it’s very good and quite the accomplishment for Senator Klobuchar, really, really nice. The other thing I’ll tell people to do, if you’re listening, you’re a small business owner and you’re not already involved in Small Business Rising, you should do so because we’re fighting for small businesses and independent businesses. And we’re fighting to democratize the economy and break monopoly power. Go to smallbusinessrising.net, N-E-T, that’s the website and sign up, and get our email blasts, and get involved.
Jessica Del Fia…: Thanks. Marin?
Maren Machles: I would do another plug for one of our things as well. I would say, please visit muninetworks.org. And it’s there that we’re documenting all of the different networks that have been popping up throughout the pandemic. If you’re a community that is considering trying to build your own network, we have documented basically everything. And so there’s lots of stories for you to check out and people to get in contact with. So I would definitely say that’s the place to go, if you want to read about this.
Neil Seldman: Jess, I’m going to add two items. One, is a shout out to the Department of Resource Recovery in Austin, Texas, they’ve been coming up with dynamite reports. One is called Wealth in the Walls, it’s about the economic development potential of building deconstruction. And the other is a report on their 10 year investment into zero waste projects. I’ll get you the sites for both reports. But the second report documents over a billion dollars worth of economic payback and 6,000 new jobs, so these are the dynamite reports that people will benefit from. There were also sample ordinances that of course people can use in their campaigns. And finally a shout out to our own Brenda Platt and Sophia and Linda, and their compost work, which is remarkable. And composting is critical for breaking up monopolies because it takes away one third of the waste that these companies would handle. And their page is ilsr.org/compost, and you’ll get the latest and greatest on what’s going on in that subfield.
Jessica Del Fia…: All right. Thanks everybody. This was a great conversation.
Neil Seldman: Thank you.
Maren Machles: Thank you Jess.
Ron Knox: Bye everybody.
Jessica Del Fia…: Thank you for tuning into this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. You can find links to what we’ve discussed today by going to ilsr.org and clicking on the show page for this episode, that’s ilsr.org. You heard Ron mention smallbusinessrising.net, you should check that one out too, especially if you’re a small business owner. And Marin talked about muninetworks.org, where you can find all of our research and reporting on community broadband solutions. You can also sign up for one of our many newsletters, and connect with us on social media. And hope you’ll also take the opportunity to help us out with the gift that helps produce this very podcast, and supports the research and resources we make available for free on our website. Finally, we ask you let us know how we’re doing with a rating or review on Apple podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts. This show is produced by me, Jess Del Fiacco, and edited by Drew Birschbach. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL. For the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I’m Jess Del Fiacco, and I hope you’ll join us again in two weeks for the next episode of Building Local Power.

 

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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: iStock.com

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Jess Del Fiacco is ILSR’s Communications Manager. In this role, she works closely with program staff to develop and implement communications strategy that supports ILSR’s mission. She promotes ILSR’s work through the organization’s newsletters, website, social media, events, and more. Jess also hosts the Building Local Power podcast. Contact Jess for media inquiries.