From a publication run by his company – Vox Media – Kanter complained repeatedly on Twitter about people’s tech habits.
We all know it was the lobbying campaign launched by Facebook and Google before 2016’s presidential election that helped convince regulators to allow those two companies to break up AT&T. Now, thanks to the Senate’s vote to confirm Jonathan Kanter as the U.S. attorney general’s top antitrust official, it may happen again.
President Donald Trump’s pick, a short-time antitrust attorney, is likely to withdraw from a case testing a net neutrality provision that effectively rules internet service providers (ISPs) are treated like common carriers – a different legal category than a telecom company – during their relationship with internet users. Kanter’s decision could make it more difficult for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make a case that internet service providers and telecom firms should be broken up and specifically classified as “common carriers.”
“There’s no question that the odds are pretty high that Kanter is going to walk away from these sort of cases,” said Tom Rosamilia, a Democratic former assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s antitrust division. “Some kind of argument will be made and he’ll find a way to leave his mark, no matter how ineffective he is.”
Naming Kanter as antitrust chief was among Trump’s first moves in his new governance style: Instead of calling up experts to make specific policy decisions, he gets to make key appointments like Kanter’s. Trump has praised the judge sitting on the AT&T-Time Warner merger case as “one of the most respected jurists in the country.”
Travis LeBlanc, Kanter’s new boss at the DOJ, is a lawyer also based in New York. LeBlanc is only a few months in on the job, so it is unknown whether he shares Kanter’s view of powerful internet companies.
LeBlanc was rumored to be among the finalists for the antitrust chief position. In an interview with The Washington Post, he called himself a champion of antitrust.
Without Kanter’s departure in future antitrust cases, the next man or woman in line at the DOJ to supervise big tech cases – assuming the president nominates one – is likely to be former FTC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Both Kanter and Wheeler are plaintiffs in the AT&T case.