The government’s emphasis on developing public digital infrastructure during the last few years has been a game changer, enabling private entrepreneurs to invest and innovate, said Sangeeta Verma, Acting Chairperson, Competition Commission of India (CCI) on Friday. 

She was delivering the keynote address in the inaugural session of the CCI-organised ‘National Conference on Economics of Competition Law’ in New Delhi.

“The India Stack, the ONDC, the Account Aggregator framework are all democratising access, enhancing the economic potential of individuals and businesses and contributing to the greater formalisation of the economy,” Verma said.

She highlighted that it is imperative for the competition agencies to ensure that market outcomes in the digital sectors are driven by market forces and not by the self-perpetuating, anti-competitive strategies of a small cohort of players. 

As ecosystem operators, the large big technology platforms are uniquely positioned to affect competition in multiple markets. It is also important to recognise that price is not the only relevant metric.

Instead, aspects of access and control over data, search visibility, and demand-side features such as consumers’ behavioural biases influence competition in digital settings.

“Interventions in digital cases are premised on novel theories of harm guided by the economics of multi-sided markets, within the overall regulatory framework,” Verma added. 

Once practices that mute competition are identified, it is important to address them through precise and carefully crafted remedies. “Our recent orders have been an endeavour in this direction,” she said.

As newer dimensions of digital markets unfold and new digital products emerge, policymakers and competition agencies need to provide the necessary safeguards to preserve a digital environment that is fair and contestable.

However, there is also a growing recognition across jurisdictions that enforcement of competition law may be supplemented with suitable legislative measures for the ex-ante regulation of digital platforms. 

Role of digital tech in economy

Highlighting the role of digital technology in the economy, CCI Chief said, “We also recognise that the operating environment for businesses is not a static one; instead, it is constantly evolving. Today, we see that a large number of sectors in the economy have a growing interface with technology, particularly digital technology and the internet.”

She added, “As we strive to become a digitally empowered society and a knowledge economy, we need to embrace these changes in a way that creates opportunities for all.” 

Digital markets and data unit 

Verma also highlighted that CCI has initiated the process of setting up an in-house Digital Markets and Data Unit (DMDU) in CCI considering the imperative of strengthening institutional capability in light of recent developments in digital markets.

She said that DMDU will act as a specialised interdisciplinary centre of expertise for digital markets within CCI. 

Market studies

Apart from discharging enforcement and regulatory agenda, CCI has also been carrying out market studies to assess the structural and behavioural aspects of entire sectors, said Verma.  

“Economists’ insights on incentive frameworks, competition parameters, and conditions of competition are adding considerable value to such market studies. In the last few years, CCI has published several market studies. We have used these to communicate with stakeholders on important competition issues in sectors such as e-commerce, telecom, pharmaceuticals, common ownership by institutional investors, cab aggregators, and more recently, films.” 

Network of competition experts

With a view to formalising engagement with academia, CCI has built a Network of Indian Competition Experts (NICE) in the country, pointed out Verma and emphasised that to stimulate antitrust research and scholarship, particularly in the context of the Indian market, CCI publishes the ‘Journal on Competition Law and Policy’

“These are steps towards capacity building in the area of competition law and economics in the country, which can help place the antitrust regime in India on a strong intellectual foundation,” concluded the CCI Chief.