Maybe it’s time to rethink tech sector monopolies
Mon 23 May 2016
Last week the UK’s culture secretary John Whittingdale supported the transformation of the BBC’s iPlayer service into a Brit-centric Netflix rival, prompting me to wonder whether we need yet another candidate avid to co-opt the global streaming market which Netflix has aggressively sought to dominate in the past three years. In the case of the putative ‘BritFlix’, better licensing agreements with existing major players such as Netflix or Amazon Prime would likely cost the British tax-payer less and ensure QoS over highly-invested and established networks. But that’s not the way Britain has done business for a long time now.
Since the Thatcher years deregulated and privatised state industries and services (which did not lead to cheaper rail fares, lower energy bills or affordable housing via increased competition, as intended), the UK has indulged an institutional horror of potential monopolies in the public or private sector, leading either to under-investment and instability among the contested major players – or, arguably, to tacit cartels.
The current British government makes an exception for open source software, in line with the U.S. government (and even the U.S. military is now forking on GitHub). No wonder, since OS is effectively a free lunch in the controversial and costly history of government IT.
But it’s quite an irony that a culture which has come to distrust large-scale communal consortia will only accept market dominance in a field dominated by idealistic code-hippies. An irony too that tensions are rising between western governments and the predominance of tech giants such as Apple, Google and Facebook, since these companies rose to ‘power’ under the only rules that the prevailing free market politics of the last thirty years deemed acceptable.
So perhaps it is time to consider how we can help successful tech concerns to prosper, whilst ensuring that they participate in general society. The alternative is to keep regulating, keep strip-mining, and keep dividing, in the belief that constant resets are the only route to vigorous and effective markets.