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Web companies fear Google's reach

A look at some of the major deals the Web giant has made or attempted in an effort to expand its reach.

Even worse, the flight-search companies fear that Google could somehow hamper, or even cut off, their access to ITA's technology.

Google says that owning ITA outright, rather than just licensing the technology, will give it the expertise needed to build the best flight-search engine on the Web. The company argues that its end product will only benefit consumers. And moving into flight searches is also part of the company's strategy to create a comprehensive world of products that users will submerse themselves in every time they go online.

"No site today has a good answer for the query 'Where can I fly in January for under $500 that's somewhere sunny?' " Kovacevich said.

Google also has promised to honor the existing licenses between ITA and its customers. It also points out that there are alternatives to ITA. Expedia, for example, does not use the company's technology.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, sent a letter this month to Christine Varney, head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, urging her to examine the deal closely.

Justice and the FTC declined to comment or share their views on Google. But the agencies are watching the firm's moves closely. Google revealed in August that the Justice Department had requested more information from the company as it decides whether to green-light its merger with ITA, which was announced in July.

There also are hints that federal officials are concerned about the company's growing dominance.

At a conference this month organized by Consumer Watchdog, an FTC lawyer laid out potential arguments to prove that Google is illegally abusing its market power.

"You may well see something soon from the U.S. agencies," said Melanie Sabo, assistant director for anti-competitive practices at the FTC's bureau of competition. She said she was speaking for herself and not the agency. "But I can't promise anything."

Antitrust enforcers, however eager to pursue Google, face a number of legal challenges as they look at the company's mergers and its position on the Web.

For decades, courts have resisted blocking marriages between companies that do not compete head to head - precisely the kind of deal Google has been pursuing ever since the Justice Department threatened in 2008 to sue the company over a proposed partnership with direct rival Yahoo.

This year Google has been on a tear, acquiring all kinds of companies, paying a total of $1.6 billion for 40 firms through the end of the third quarter.

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