A key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee urged the Justice Department Wednesday to carefully review Google's proposed acquisition of ITA Software, which provides online travel search software.
Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl, D-Wis., said in a letter to Christine Varney, assistant attorney general for antitrust, that while he has not taken a "position on the ultimate legality of this acquisition under the antitrust laws," he said it was important for Justice to examine the concerns raised by several online travel firms.
A coalition of travel sites have voiced concern that Google could extend its dominance in search to online travel and could harm competition in the online travel search market. The Fair Search coalition, which includes Expedia.com, Hotwire, KAYAK, Travelocity and others, was launched in October to try to block the deal. Many of the coalition's members use ITA's software.
"As an independent provider of air travel search functionality, ITA currently has the incentive to license its service broadly as it has done since its inception. However, the incentives could change if ITA is acquired by Google," Kohl wrote. "Participants in the on-line travel industry are concerned that Google could refuse to make the key components of ITA software available on reasonable terms to other online travel industry participants by raising the price for a renewed license or refusing to license improvements to the software."
Google, however, has dismissed such concerns. "ITA and Google are not competitors so there will not be less choice for consumers," Google said in a fact sheet on the deal. It added that the deal is aimed at building "tools that drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites where customers can purchase tickets. We also believe that giving users better ways to search for flights online will encourage more users to make their flight purchases online, which will create more overall online sales for airlines and travel agencies. Google does not plan to sell airline tickets directly."
While noting that Google has promised to honor ITA's existing software licensing agreements, Kohl also urged the department "to obtain a consent decree to ensure that Google's promise is enforceable and implemented in good faith."