February 5, 2020


Bilal Sayyed, director of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning, visited SIPA on January 29.
Bilal Sayyed, director of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning, visited SIPA on January 29.

Bilal Sayyed, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Policy Planning, visited SIPA on January 29 to discuss “Antitrust, Big Tech, and Free Speech” in conversation with Katy Glenn Bass of the Knight First Amendment Institute.

In his remarks, Sayyed highlighted several inflection points in the history of FTC’s antitrust investigation and enforcement.

Beginning in the 1970s, Sayyed said, when the FTC took actions that reshaped industries representing a substantial portion of the U.S. economy, it did so without a clear theory of what constituted monopolizing behavior or a clear framework for redressal. He discussed how the agency's research and policy function was reinvigorated in the mid-1990s with the global and innovation-based competition hearings before turning his attention to the challenges that digital platform companies present to the FTC’s current enforcement efforts and policy priorities.

Observers who believe that business competition has been damaged by online platforms have called for changes in anti-trust enforcement to mitigate the impact.

“Perhaps competition agencies were slow to recognize the competitive possibilities associated with digital markets and digital platforms,” Sayyed said. “But we must see what comes of their current efforts in this market before we act to offend them with revisions to laws that may not be beneficial, and are, arguably, potentially more harmful.”

He said the FTC was working to develop an analytical framework to evaluate both unilateral conduct and proposed merger transactions by supposedly dominant technology platforms. Sayyed also talked about the implications of speculative mergers on innovation and competition.

“What we are doing at the FTC, and I think the same is true of other competition agencies, is intended to show that vigorous, aggressive but thoughtful antitrust enforcement, grounded in microeconomic principles, is capable of meeting the competitive challenges of digital markets and avoiding the negative effects of an overly prescriptive and anti-trust regulatory regime, as much as possible.”

— Shalini Seetharam MPA ’20

Welcoming remarks: Dean Merit E. Janow
Sponsor: School of International and Public Affairs