"This is a moment of enormous importance," FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle said. "We in government who are responsible for regulations and enforcing laws have to get it right" when decisions are made about this budding online sector.
Today and tomorrow, executives from several leading business-to-business e-commerce companies, including Commerce One, FreeMarkets and MetalSite, are discussing questions and concerns from federal regulators. The FTC plans to use the information as it considers possible regulations for the industry.
The government has already begun investigating some areas of the new sector. A site funded by automakers to buy parts has already attracted the attention of the FTC, while the Justice Department is investigating a venture backed by five large U.S. airlines to sell tickets over the Internet.
The FTC plans to convene a panel to discuss antitrust implications for the sector.
Although business-to-business e-commerce is in its fledgling stage, industry analysts and government officials are debating whether the FTC should establish some form of oversight for their online marketplaces.
Those in favor of regulation argue that the expected size of the sector requires some guidelines to prevent collusion and other anti-competitive practices. Any oversight legislation is likely to meet resistance from the technology industry, which has vociferously opposed government regulation.
The U.S. business-to-business market will drive more than $6 trillion in online trades by 2005, according to a study that research company Jupiter Communications released this week.
"Whatever we do, let's make sure we do so to protect consumers and allow for competition amongst the various players within the industry," Swindle said.