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Google’s Search Dominance Under Scrutiny By Officials

March 13, 2011

Google’s dominance in Internet search is among top issues the Senate’s leading legislator on antitrust issues plans to probe in the coming months.

Senator Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, who heads the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, listed priority issues — which also include media consolidation and net neutrality — in an announcement Thursday highlighting his top concerns for the 112th Congress.

Kohl called out Google specifically as a potential cause for concern. He urged the Justice Department in December to conduct a “careful review” of the Internet search giant’s attempted acquisition of travel search software company ITA.

“In recent years, the dominance over Internet search of the world’s largest search engine, Google, has increased and Google has increasingly sought to acquire e-commerce sites in myriad businesses,” Kohl said in a news release.

“In this regard, we will closely examine allegations raised by e-commerce websites that compete with Google that they are being treated unfairly in search ranking, and in their ability to purchase search advertising,” he added. “We also will continue to closely examine the impact of further acquisitions in this sector.”

The emergence of online video will also be a focus of the subcommittee. Kohl said the panel will track Comcast’s integration with NBC Universal and whether conditions on the deal attached by regulators are being met.

“Internet video holds the promise of providing consumers, for the first time, an alternative to expensive pay TV subscriptions and the ability to purchase only the programming they want,” he said.

The subcommittee will look at “challenges that video programmers face in distributing their programming over the Internet, challenges that online video distributors face in obtaining programming, and whether Internet service providers are placing undue barriers to the video delivered over the Internet,” Kohl said.

The panel will also explore observance to “the merger conditions imposed on the Comcast/NBC Universal merger to ensure that these conditions are being properly applied to foster competition, including competition from new forms of Internet delivery of video content,” Kohl added.

The high-speed broadband market was another area Kohl focused on.

“Maintaining competitive choices in this industry is crucial to consumers and the health of the national economy,” he wrote. “We will also examine the issue of network neutrality principles and monitor whether consumers continue to have the freedom to access the Internet content they wish without interference from their internet service provider.”

Kohl said he also plans to focus on competition issues surrounding the freight railroad, prescription drugs, energy and agricultural markets.

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