Lawmakers ask FTC for briefing, inquiry on Google-AdMob deal

Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are prepared to wade into federal regulators' ongoing review of Google's proposed purchase of AdMob, a mobile advertising firm.

As the Federal Trade Commission reportedly readies a legal team to challenge that deal, five committee Democrats and Republicans asked the panel on Friday to brief them soon on Google's attempted $750-million buy, which critics say could threaten competition in the neophyte mobile ad industry.

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The lawmakers' request arrives about a month after 11 committee members signaled serious concern that Google's move could prove anti-competitive, given that it could easily leverage its vast success in online advertising when it launches its larger foray into the mobile ad market. 

And the Friday letter heavily references similar criticism levied by Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that chiefly handles anti-trust issues, who wrote the FTC in April to point out potential, "important competition issues." Kohl, however, stressed at the time he had not yet formed a final opinion on the deal.

Lawmakers' latest letter, dated Friday, specifically questions whether the "combined company" could eventually come to control "a substantially greater share of such advertising than its closest competitor."

They also asked the FTC to note whether the transaction would further boost Google's dominance in the online advertising world, and whether that could result in higher prices for advertisers or lower revenue for Google's chief competitors, especially in the mobile ad world.

"In light of these concerns, we would be grateful if you, as Committee Chairman, would request the FTC to brief the committee at the appropriate point on its investigation of the Google-AdMob deal," wrote Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Steve Scalise (R-La.), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Bruce Braley (D-Iowa).

It is still unclear where the FTC might fall on that deal, which it must still approve for it to become official. However, reports earlier this month hinted the commission could soon ready a legal team to challenge Google's overture, even as its top regulators negotiate a more amenable settlement to regulators' concerns.

But Google has maintained throughout the endeavor that its purchase would not harm its primary competitors in the mobile ad industry, which is only expected to blossom as the smartphone economy matures.

"The deal will bring new innovation and competition to mobile advertising, and will lead to more effective tools for creating, serving, and analyzing emerging mobile ads formats," the company noted upon announcing the deal earlier this year. 

Google CEO Eric Schmidt later predicted the deal would clear regulatory hurdles, citing Apple's recent entry in the mobile ad market as sufficient evidence that competition would thrive.

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