For much of the 20th century, regulators empowered by landmark legislation like the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 struck real trepidation into the hearts of corporate would-be consolidators who used their market position to crush competition and take advantage of consumers.
Even juggernauts like the monopolistic Bell System could not outmaneuver the regulators, who broke up the company in 1983 in what was then decried as an overboard measure but is now widely viewed as a necessary intervention that laid the groundwork for the modern tech industry.
Now, increasingly dominant tech companies often treat antitrust as an afterthought. That's been painfully demonstrated by the Taylor Swift Ticketmaster debacle earlier this month, and it's a good thing that the wrath of her ardent fan base has triggered the scrutiny of the U.S. Senate antitrust subcommittee.
Ticketmaster has said the root of the problem is demand for Swift's upcoming tour, which could fill "900 stadiums." Perhaps, but when the company is just about the only game in town for ticket sales, we are forced to just take its word for it. In a parallel universe, after a supposed system error caused Ticketmaster's offerings to skyrocket and exceed $20,000, a competitor might have swooped in to offer more reasonable prices. Instead, the company's hammerlock on the process meant the whole sale had to be scrapped.
It was the latest stain on a company that, especially since its merger with event promoter and operator Live Nation, has infuriated countless consumers with high and hidden fees, with many sales dominated by bots who then buy up tickets in batches, then jack up prices on the secondary resale market, and more. A law that went into effect in New York this year aims to require transparency in ticket sales. It's a good start but only a start.
The dates and times for the Senate antitrust hearings on Ticketmaster have yet to be announced. When they are, turn on C-SPAN and watch carefully. This live event is free.