White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon believes Silicon Valley giants Google and Facebook should be regulated as utilities, several people briefed on the matter by Bannon himself said on Thursday. The 63-year-old thinks that the two tech companies became an essential part of everyday life in the United States and hence warrant additional government scrutiny, the sources said, adding how President Trump's top advisor is of the opinion that a massive Internet search engine and a social media platform with two billion users exhibit certain characteristics of natural monopolies, providers of services that everyone wants or needs yet doesn't have many or any alternatives to choose from due to extremely high costs of entering a business in a related industry. Bannon compared the two tech giants to railroad and cable companies, adding how their omnipresence should be noted by the federal government and regulated accordingly, the sources said.
Being a top advisor at the White House, Bannon has enough political pull to at least incorporate his ideas into the President's agenda, though it's currently unclear whether the former media executive did so. The sole notion of regulating any private business as a utility entails strict federal oversights over all aspects of its operations, something that the Republican Party that Bannon is a member of generally frowns upon. Excessive regulations and the abuse of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) were the current administration's main arguments for trying to overturn the net neutrality rules adopted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the former Obama administration in 2015, an endeavor that the new FCC led by the President Trump-appointed Chairman Ajit Pai still pursues. Under the now-former Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC classified Internet service providers as utilities and legally prevented them from selling prioritized access to the World Wide Web, something that many Republican politicians labeled as an unwise move that stifles innovation and hurts job growth in the country. That state of affairs makes Bannon's supposed position on regulating Google and Facebook even less clear and may explain why the President's Chief Strategist never made his opinions on the matter public, provided that the latest report on his stances is accurate.
Even if Bannon's ideas come to pass, Google and Facebook may not find themselves under federal scrutiny in their entirety like other utility companies in the U.S. do. Instead, the government may only opt to regulate individual elements of their operations that are deemed to be crucial components of everyday life in the country, i.e. Facebook's social network and Google's Internet search engine.