Inviting regulation once you’ve already won

We should be cautious about apparent signs of Big Tech’s willingness to accept regulation when we consider the history of AT&T. As Tim Wu documents on pg 56 of The Master Switch, the telephone monopoly was willing to accept regulation once it had already won:

The trick of the Kingsbury Commitment was to make relatively painless concessions that preempted more severe actions, just as an inoculation confers immunity by a exposing one’s system to a much less virulent form of the pathogen. By offering to renounce hegemony in a dying industry and make available a service relatively few could still exploit, Bell spared itself the brunt—and the one truly meaningful remedy—of most antitrust proceedings: a breakup of the firm. With the government satisfied, and even Woodrow Wilson hailing it as an act of business statesmanship, Kingsbury’s greatest achievement was to free Bell to consolidate the industry unmolested.

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