This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

FTC Wants a Piece of B-to-B
Jul 07 2000 12:00 AM PDT

Get Rewrite. Here's the concept for the cocktail party, circa 2000: The Graduate enters and looks around nervously. A boozy middle-aged man leans over him and confides in a stage whisper, "b-to-b." But an eavesdropping government lawyer in a bad suit, quite sober, breaks in with his own word of advice: "antitrust."

Both the San Jose Mercury News and the New York Times ran long pieces on the government's growing scrutiny of business-to-business marketplaces. Both outlets used as a point of departure a two-day workshop convened last week by the Federal Trade Commission that brought in b-to-b executives, lawyers and consumer advocates. The FTC wanted the attendees to advise it on how to regulate online marketplaces.

The Merc's Elise Ackerman grounded her story in the experience of one executive who spoke at the FTC workshop, Patrick Stewart, CEO of the MetalSite marketplace. Ackerman reached back into antitrust history to compare Stewart's apologia for online marketplaces to the sentiments uttered a century ago by John D. Rockefeller.

Ackerman noted that the FTC has begun a preliminary investigation into the Big Three automakers' nascent b-to-b venture. She mentioned the Department of Justice's scrutiny of online marketplaces in the meatpacking and airline industries. The Times' David Leonhardt pinned down the airline probe more exactly as the subject of an upcoming Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Leonhardt examined the issues of competition, exclusion and collusion from a higher altitude, talking to academics and antitrust lawyers as well as government and b-to-b types. He wrote, "Legal experts say b-to-b exchanges are likely to present the next major forum - after the Microsoft trial and the proposed WorldCom-Sprint and America Online-Time Warner mergers - for the debate over how century-old antitrust laws should be applied to the new world of the Internet."

While some government agencies look askance at b-to-b, others are diving into b-to-g: business-to-government purchasing. CNET put up a page linking three loosely related g-to-b and b-to-g stories. The most recent, by Stefanie Olsen, examined the General Service Administration's initiative. Her piece brims with bubbly quotes from government bureaucrats eager to get in on the Net's promised cost savings and efficiencies. Government goose, meet government gander. - Keith Dawson

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