Emergent Governance: The Politics Of Competition In Digital Markets

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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communications policy
critical policy studies
digital markets
digital platforms
platform governance
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Popiel, Pawel

This dissertation examines a series of US policy debates to provide an account of how policymakers attempt to address gaps in existing policy frameworks to tackle challenges arising in digital platform markets, ranging from mass data collection, the spread of hate speech and misinformation, to increasingly concentrated market power among a few dominant firms. The focus falls on competition policy, which has emerged internationally as one of the most prominent policy frames for governing these sectors. Specifically, I explore how the boundaries of competition policy are discursively contested and negotiated in response to dramatic changes in digital communications by stakeholders ranging from policy experts to regulators to public interest groups to the regulated industries themselves. Drawing on policy documents, stakeholder interviews, and fieldwork in Washington, D.C., I identify the range of interests invested in clashes over policy, including competing definitions of digital platform markets; characteristics of competitive dynamics in them; proposed policy interventions and expectations about their outcomes; and the proper role of the state and of market competition in digital markets. First, this dissertation provides an account of how this politics animates the emergence of a governance framework for digital platform markets, which privileges stronger antitrust enforcement and economic regulation, in response to regulatory gaps introduced by technological convergence and digitization and neoliberal reforms. Second, I assess this framework, whose committed pursuit of competition in digital markets reveals blind spots in addressing the systemic problems posed by platformization and datafication, with significant noneconomic concerns remaining outside its field of vision. Cumulatively, this dissertation illuminates how these policy debates, fundamentally about the role of law, policy, and market competition vis-à-vis new technologies, both enable and constrain imagining and defining a governance regime over rapidly transforming digital markets.

Victor Pickard
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