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Plain Talk: Can North Dakota help break Apple and Google's app monopoly?

"This is exactly the same thing" as the railroad monopolies of the 19th century says Lacee Anderson, spokesperson for the Coalition for App Fairness, said on this episode of Plain Talk.

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The new iPhones, from left, X, 8 and 8 Plus, after Apple's product event at the new Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, Calif., Sept. 12, 2017. (Jim Wilson/Copyright 2017 The New York Times)
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In the late 19th century, hundreds of small, short-line railroads were being bought up and consolidated into larger companies. Our nation's burgeoning economy was (and still is, in many ways) dependent on those railroad lines that were increasingly under the control of a shrinking number of people.

Those people began using their monopoly over the transportation of goods to price gouge and manipulate markets.

"If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life," Republican Sen. John Sherman said at the time.

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Sherman would ultimately give his name to the Sherman Antitrust Act, which continues to the basis of American antitrust law to this day.

The point is that corporate hegemonies should be allowed to suppress free trade. Some argue that's exactly what's happening in the enormous and growing market of app development.

Two companies dominate that market. Apple, the manufacturer of iPhones, and Google, which operates the Android operating system used on phones from pretty much every single non-Apple manufacturer.

Companies that sell digital services through these apps -- think a subscription to a fitness app or an in-app purchase in a game like Candy Crush -- have to use Apple and Google's payment services, and they have to pay a 30% fee for the privilege.

"This is exactly the same thing," as the railroad monopolies of the 19th century says Lacee Anderson, spokesperson for the Coalition for App Fairness, said on this episode of Plain Talk.

In this context, North Dakota's lawmakers take up Senate Bill 2333 , which Republican Sen. Kyle Davison of Fargo introduced.

Mark Buse, a vice president for dating service Match.com, says his company supports the legislation. "The issue is that all app developers should be treated the same."

Anderson suggested that Apple and Google have used their control of the app markets to drive out competitors for their own services. She also noted the recent controversies over the tech industry censoring political content as an argument in favor of breaking up these companies' controls over apps.

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No other state has this sort of law in place, though others are considering it. Why should North Dakota lead the charge? It could encourage app developers to locate here to avoid Apple and Google's fees.

Could Apple and Google cut North Dakotans off from their stores if this legislation passes? After all, our state is but a fraction of the markets those tech giants serve.

Anderson says that would be an extreme and unlikely outcome.

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To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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