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CES 2020: FTC plans to release antitrust guidance for tech companies

Top federal regulators could take action this year against large U.S. tech platforms.

Asked at CES 2020 what would make 2020 a successful year for the agency, U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons suggested that the regulator could come to a decision on one or more antitrust probes of large tech companies. CES is the Consumer Technology Association's annual technology and media trade show.

"We either decide something, to bring an enforcement action or not. We want to do that in the best time frame possible," he said in response to a question about the upcoming year.

Both Facebook Inc. and the FTC have confirmed that the agency has an open antitrust investigation of the social media giant, but Simons noted that the agency has other ongoing investigations when it comes to "high-tech platforms."

Simons also said the agency intends to put out guidance involving high-tech platforms and how it plans to evaluate them under the antitrust laws, similar to how the agency has put out merger guidelines.

Still, Simons noted that the agency will not be targeting large tech platforms simply because of their size.

"We don't go after companies just because they're big and successful," he said. "They actually have to commit an antitrust violation … We don't just break companies up because they're big."

Addressing the ongoing debate in Congress about developing a comprehensive federal privacy law, Simons said the agency has urged Congress not to pass legislation that would "essentially entrench the big, dominant, tech platforms and disadvantage the new players and the small guys and the new entrants."

While some lawmakers have suggested the creation of a new privacy regulatory agency, Simons said it would be a big mistake and added that he thinks the FTC is "the most active privacy enforcer on the planet."

Also speaking at CES was U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who focused many of his comments on 5G, the next-generation mobile technology.

Pai said a number of barriers remain to 5G implementation in the U.S., including costs to build 5G networks, access to spectrum and getting work crews to build the networks.

When asked about stretch goals for U.S. 5G deployment, Pai said making sure the supply of spectrum meets consumer demand and ensuring that companies continue to deploy small cells at a rapid pace come to mind.

Additionally, Pai said fiber deployment will be critical.

"I don't want fiber to be the bottleneck for some of the 5G networks that need to be built, and so we need to make sure that fiber penetration is much deeper," he said.

5G mobility service promises to provide increased bandwidth and more opportunities for connectivity, enabling the new era of the internet of things where billions of devices in homes and across cities will be connected at all times. When fully implemented, 5G will offer download speeds many times faster than 4G LTE networks and significantly lower latency times. Latency is the amount of time it takes to send a message from the device to the network and get a response.