As Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter (NASDAQ:TWTR) CEO Jack Dorsey faced a grilling before the Senate Sept. 5, investors were asking if the cloud party is ending and whether government is killing it.
Neither Facebook nor Twitter has recovered from their post-earnings August collapses, caused by their moves to ban accounts and activities deemed politically out of bounds, including Russian propaganda campaigns alleged to have helped elect President Trump.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL, NASDAQ:GOOG) has been hit by nearly $8 billion in fines over the last two years, and faces calls from publishers for “link taxes” that would charge websites (like this one) that link readers to outside content.
It’s all part of a broader government attack against the five “Cloud Czars” — Amazon.Com (NASDAQ:AMZN), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Alphabet, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Facebook — which were worth a collective $4.2 trillion as trading opened Sept. 5.
Too Big, Too Powerful?
There is currently a global attack on internet market cap, as China’s internet leaders — Tencent Holdings (OTCMKTS:TCEHY), Alibaba Group Holding (NASDAQ:BABA) and Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) — are all down for the year. The three Chinese “Cloud Emperors” are worth a combined $900 billion.
Antitrust analysts in both U.S. parties are circling the largest internet companies, accusing them of unfairly dominating markets. But what has really happened is the cloud, a new technology which these companies put heavy investment in when it was introduced and which other companies like AT&T (NYSE:T), Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ), International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) and Hewlett-Packard under-invested in, is transforming the computing and communications industries.
The Cloud Czars have built, along with interconnection companies like Equinix (NASDAQ:EQIX), a global “cloud internet” above the older internet — running data at hundreds of gigabits per second — that replaces not only computing and communication but all the other industries attached to them.
Facebook, for instance, founded the Open Compute Project to cut cloud construction costs in 2011, opening its Oregon data center the same year, when its annual revenues were just $3.7 billion. It was a huge gamble. Its commitment to cloud was greater than its total revenue run rate at the time. But because of cloud, that revenue is now $40.6 billion.
This is the way capitalism is supposed to work. You take big risks, you earn big rewards. Amazon began building what became Amazon Web Services when its revenue was less than $10 billion per year. The same was true with Alphabet. Microsoft and Apple were much larger when they committed to cloud, but the moves were still controversial at the time.
Now that the moves have paid off, governments around the world fear these companies are more powerful than they are and are working to rein them in.
What Happens Next for the Cloud Czars?
While government may try to regulate the Cloud Czars at the margins, a far greater threat exists in the market.
The rise of 5G makes wireless broadband infrastructure increasingly important. That’s where AT&T, worth half a Facebook, and Verizon (also worth half a Facebook) are now committing their capital to 5G.
Connecting machines to cloud is becoming a bigger business than connecting people, which is where Dell Technologies’ unit VMware (NYSE:VMW) makes its money. Small companies like PTC (NASDAQ:PTC), which runs the Thingworx Internet of Things platform, could become very large companies, very fast, on this infrastructure.
Then there are services riding off the cloud internet, like self-driving cars, and innovations now completely unknown that will be built on what the Cloud Czars have done this decade. The Czars will not dominate all these markets. They barely know some of them exist.
Does anyone really want government to get in the way of that?
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of a new mystery thriller, The Reluctant Detective Finds Her Family, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in BABA, MSFT and AMZN.