These days, it’s hard to get Democrats and Republicans in Congress to agree on anything.
It is therefore notable that the Democrats on the Antitrust Subcommittee today announced a host of antitrust laws aimed at limiting the power of the tech giants, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, specifically, with some bipartisan support from their Republican colleagues. Collectively called “A Stronger Online Economy: Opportunity, Innovation and Choice,” each of the five bills presented has multiple co-sponsors, including at least one from each side of the aisle.
Generally speaking, the bills aim to curb the power of big technologies by limiting their roles as gatekeepers and their dominance of digital markets. The bills also represent the culmination of a 16-month investigation into antitrust issues involving technology companies. If these bills were signed into law, they could significantly contract, or even break, the key business lines of several of the major tech companies. They could also change the way anti-competitive practices are applied, whether technology companies can sell or promote their own product on their platforms, and whether they can merge or acquire competing companies.
Big Tech lobbyists have already come to light, arguing that the bills could jeopardize the economic strength of the US tech sector and inadvertently help competitors in China, as well as limit the ability of tech companies to offer free products to consumers.
On this particular issue, Congressional leaders will likely need even more support from both sides of the aisle if they are to pass. This is because the bills will need a wide enough margin in a Democratic-controlled Senate to pass, which means they will likely they need unilateral or near-unilateral support from Democrats in addition to Republican support. In a press call Friday with advisers from the Democratic and Republican parties for lawmakers leading the bills, the group said they anticipate more members of Congress signing by the end of the day.
Democratic members of the House and Senate have focused on how to limit the economic power of major tech companies. And as the Republican co-sponsors of today’s bills show, that desire has some level of support in the hall.
But other leaders Republican Senators has been more focused especially a set of issues related to perceived anti-conservative bias and limiting the power of tech companies to ban conservative figures.
The subcommittee’s senior representative, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), who is an original co-sponsor of the five bills, has said that he believes the antitrust legislation addresses the concerns of other Republicans, because if there are alternatives to Facebook, Google and Twitter, then there will be more diverse social media companies representing conservative views.
“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy. They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, increase prices to consumers and put people out of work, ”said the chair of the subcommittee, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in a statement on the bills. “Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure that the richest and most powerful tech monopolies follow the same rules as the rest of us.”
The bills have just been filed in the house, and there is a long way to go before they can finally be passed. In the meantime, here is a brief overview of the bills and what they mean.
The American Online Choice and Innovation Act
This bill, introduced by Cicilline and co-sponsored by Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX), is aimed at technology companies running “designated platforms,” which would be defined by regulators. It would make it illegal for companies to prefer their business in those markets.
It sets some parameters on what kind of platforms would be included, and they are important. Only companies that have 500,000 or more monthly users and $ 600 million billion in market capitalization would be subject to these new regulations, so this would not affect smaller technology platforms. Congressional aides in Thursday’s press call said these bills are really aimed at the biggest and most dominant tech platforms.
This could potentially affect the way Apple manages its App Store or the way Amazon deals with its third-party sellers.
The Law of Competition and Opportunities of Platforms
This bill aims to ensure that large companies cannot stifle competition by acquiring those new to their industry. It would prohibit “dominant companies from acquiring competitors, potential competitors, and companies or assets that reinforce their monopoly power.”
Facebook seems like an obvious target for this legislation. The subcommittee’s investigation revealed how the company has employed a “copy, kill, acquire” strategy toward competitors such as Instagram. The bill could also hit other major tech giants like Google, which are well known for acquiring their competition.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and co-sponsored by Senior Member Buck, the Colorado Republican.
Final Platform Monopoly Law
This bill would make it illegal for a “dominant online platform” to own another line of business that is a conflict of interest. It would do so by “removing the ability and incentives of a dominant platform to use its control over multiple lines of business to prefer itself and put competitors at a disadvantage.”
Introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), a frequent critic of Amazon, the legislation could break the e-commerce giant’s business. It would do this by removing the way Amazon sells its own Amazon-created products on its website. But more generally, it could affect all the tech giants.
The bill is co-sponsored by Representative Lance Gooden (R-TX).
Increasing Compatibility and Competition by Enabling the Service Change Act
The Act on Increasing Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Switching of Service (ACCESS) will require platforms to make user data, defined as any information that the platform collects that is linked to a specific person or their device, are portable and interoperable with other services.
The logic behind this bill is that once people start using a platform, they will not move to a competitor because it would also be too difficult or impossible to move their data. The comparison made here is how to switch to a different cell phone operator used to mean He also gave up his phone number, which discouraged people from doing so. Platforms would have to keep users providing the best services, rather than making exit difficult.
Perhaps hoping to show lawmakers that this bill is not necessary, several Big Tech companies have voluntarily inserted ways for users to download or transfer their data to other platforms. Facebook, for example, makes it easy to transfer your photos and videos to other services, like Google Photos. Obviously, lawmakers didn’t think that was good enough.
The Federal Trade Commission will be tasked with establishing interoperability standards to ensure data transfer is possible and has sufficient privacy protections.
Representative Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) introduced the bill, which will be co-sponsored by Representative Burgess Owens (R-UT). It might also get some bipartisan support in the Senate, as a version with the same name was presented the last Congress by the bipartisan team of Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Mark Warner (D-VA).
The Modernization of the Merger Filing Fee Law
This bill is intended to provide more funds to agencies charged with investigating and enforcing antitrust issues, specifically, the FTC and DOJ, allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to those agencies and increasing the fees that large companies have to pay. pay when requested. approval to merge. This would be the first change to a merger filing fee since 2001, and it is estimated to generate an additional $ 135 million in revenue in the first year alone.
But not all businesses will see an increase in filing fees. The bill actually reduces fees for smaller proposed mergers, while increasing them for larger mergers, such as the one between Facebook and Instagram, for example, up to $ 2.25 million. Currently, the highest filing fee is $ 280,000. Rates will increase with inflation.
The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act was introduced by Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO) and co-sponsored by Representative Victoria Spartz (R-IN). It is a companion of the identical name bipartisan bill presented in the Senate last February by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), so there is bicameral and bipartisan support here.