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Who Owns Pure Talk? The Reality Behind the FTC’s Monopoly on Online Speech

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Who Owns Pure Talk? The Internet has given the speech a new lease on life. But much of what people say online remains anonymous, off-limits to advertisers, and unprotected from review by the government or other businesses and individuals. This creates a problem for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is charged with protecting consumers against deceptive trade practices. If it can’t do that, its efforts are in vain. But the FTC’s monopoly on regulating online speech doesn’t follow conventional thinking about free speech and its place in society. The reality is that private companies own much of what people say online, and they have an interest in keeping it that way. That’s because a government agency with little incentive to protect consumers — and much greater incentive to silence competition — has taken over the task. In this blog post, we’ll explain why the government needs to let go of its monopoly on online speech, and why you should care if your business isn’t mentioned alongside pornographers and phishers on websites like Google and Facebook.

Who Owns Pure Talk?

The first question to ask when there’s an internet problem to be solved is who’s to blame. If you’re Facebook or Google, it’s easy to point the finger at the content producers, who you claim make most of your revenue. But who’s to blame if someone owns all the websites where you talk? This is the question the FTC has yet to answer. To be perfectly fair, it should have held a public competition to decide who gets to own the baseline of internet speech. But that’s not the FTC’s style, and it’s not the agency’s goal. The real reason the FTC is so reticent to tackle the ownership issue is that it doesn’t want to rock the online boat. Google, Facebook, and Amazon control a majority of the digital content we consume and give us about as much control over what we say as an Arabian despot holds over his subjects. The government should get out of the business of regulating the internet, and private companies should get out of the business of regulating the internet. If there’s a problem to be solved, the market will work itself out. That’s the way the world works, and it’s the way the internet works, too. But the fact that the government is relying on a failed model does not mean that it has no place in this discussion. The government can and should play a critical role in regulating the internet, just as it does in other areas of life.

What is a Monopoly?

If you own a hotel, you don’t have to lease extra rooms to every tourist who comes your way. You can charge whatever you want, and you can also decide not to deal with any particular group of people. That’s what a monopoly exists when there’s no competition to the goods or services you provide. In the world of the internet, there are a few specific things that qualify as monopolies: Copyright law defines the term, and the U.S. government has issued a policy statement. But the vast majority of online activity falls under the category of “commercial speech,” which is protected by the First Amendment. The government has the ability to regulate this speech, but it doesn’t get involved in the day-to-day operations of most businesses. The ownership of websites is one example of commercial speech. The other is the ability of a single company to control a certain type of content its users encounter through a website. A website’s ability to host lots of content without competing against itself is another. This is the essence of a monopoly.

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