These days, it’s hard to get Democrats and Republicans in Congress to agree on anything.
It is therefore noteworthy that Democrats on the antitrust subcommittee today announced a series of antitrust laws aimed at limiting the power of tech giants – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, in particular – with some bipartisan support. of their Republican colleagues. Collectively referred to as “A Stronger Online Economy: Opportunity, Innovation and Choice,” each of the five bills presented has multiple co-sponsors, with at least one on either side of the aisle.
Generally speaking, the bills aim to restrict the power of Big Techs by limiting their roles as gatekeepers and their domination of digital markets. The bills also represent the culmination of a 16-month investigation into antitrust issues involving tech companies. If these bills become law, they could significantly contract – or even dissolve – the core lines of business of several large tech companies. They could also change the way anti-competitive practices are enforced, whether tech companies can sell or promote their own product on their platforms, and whether they can merge or acquire competing companies.
Lobbyist groups for Big Tech have already spoken out, saying the bills could undermine the economic strength of the U.S. 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 issue in particular, congressional leaders are likely to need even more support on both sides of the aisle if they are to pass. That’s because the bills will need a wide enough margin in a tightly Democrat-controlled Senate to pass, meaning they will likely be need the unilateral or almost unilateral support of the Democrats in addition to the Republican support. At a press conference Friday with advisers from the Democratic and Republican parties for lawmakers leading the bills, the group said it plans to sign more members of Congress by the end of the day.
Democratic members of the House and Senate focused on how to limit the economic power of big tech companies. And as the Republican co-sponsors of today’s bills show, that desire has some support across the aisle.
But other prominent Republican senators have focused more narrowly on a whole different set of issues related to perceived anti-conservative biases and limiting the power of tech companies to ban conservative figures.
Rank member of the subcommittee Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), who is the original co-sponsor of the five bills, said he viewed the antitrust legislation as meeting 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 technology monopolies have too much power over our economy. They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise consumer prices and put people out of work, ”said subcommittee chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in a press release on invoices. “Our program will level the playing field and ensure that the richest and most powerful technology monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”
Bills have only just been introduced in the House and there is still a long way to go before they are finally passed. In the meantime, here is a brief overview of the bills and what they mean.
The U.S. Online Choice and Innovation Act
This bill, introduced by Cicillin and co-sponsored by Representative Lance Gooden (R-TX), is aimed at tech companies that run “designated platforms,” which regulators would define. This would make it illegal for companies to themselves privilege their activities in these markets.
It defines some parameters regarding the types of platforms that would be included, and these are important. Only companies that have 500,000 or more monthly users and a market capitalization of $ 600 million would be subject to these new regulations, so it wouldn’t impact smaller tech platforms. Congressional aides at Thursday’s press conference said these bills are really targeting the biggest and most dominant tech platforms.
This could potentially have an impact on how Apple manages its App Store or how Amazon treats its third-party sellers.
Competition law and platform opportunities
The purpose of this bill is to ensure that large companies cannot stifle competition by acquiring new entrants in their industry. It would prohibit “dominant firms from acquiring competitors, potential competitors and firms or assets that would strengthen their monopoly power.”
Facebook seems to be an obvious target of this legislation. The subcommittee’s investigation revealed how the company used a “copy, kill, acquire” strategy towards competitors like Instagram. The bill could also have an impact on other big tech giants like Google, notorious for acquiring their competitors.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and co-sponsored by leading member Buck, the Republican of Colorado.
The law on the end of monopolies on platforms
This bill would make it illegal for a “dominant online platform” to own any other line of business that constitutes a conflict of interest. It would do so by “removing the ability and incentives of a dominant platform to use its control over multiple industries to favor and disadvantage its competitors.”
Introduced by Rep Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), a frequent critic of Amazon, the legislation could potentially break the business of the e-commerce giant. To do so, it would abolish the way Amazon sells its own products created by Amazon on its website. But more broadly, it could impact all the tech giants.
Bill is co-sponsored by Representative Lance Gooden (R-TX).
The law on increasing compatibility and competition by allowing switching of services
The law on increasing compatibility and competition by enabling switching of services (ACCESS) will require platforms to render user data – defined as any information collected by the platform and related to a specific person or device – portable and interoperable with other services.
The logic behind this bill is that once people start using a platform, they will not switch to a competitor because it would also be too difficult or impossible to transfer their data. The comparison made here is how switching to another mobile carrier also meant giving up your phone number, which discouraged people from doing so. Platforms should retain users by providing them with the best services, rather than making it hard to get started.
Perhaps in the hope of showing lawmakers that this bill is unnecessary, several big tech companies have voluntarily introduced ways for users to upload or upload their data to other platforms. Facebook, for example, makes it easy to move your photos and videos to other services, like Google Photos. Obviously, lawmakers didn’t think it was good enough.
The Federal Trade Commission will be responsible for establishing interoperability standards to ensure that data porting 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). He could also gain bipartisan support in the Senate, as a version of the same name was presented to Congress last by the bipartisan team of the Senses. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Mark Warner (D-VA).
The Act respecting the modernization of merger filing fees
This bill seeks to provide more funds to agencies tasked with investigating and enforcing antitrust laws – in particular, the FTC and DOJ – by allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to these agencies and increasing the fees they pay. large companies must pay when they apply for merger approval. This would be the first change in merger filing fees since 2001, and it’s estimated to generate $ 135 million in additional revenue in the first year alone.
But not all businesses will see an increase in application fees. The bill actually reduces fees for small proposed mergers while increasing them for larger mergers – like the one between Facebook and Instagram, for example – up to $ 2.25 million. Currently, the highest filing fee is $ 280,000. The fees 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 to the bipartisan bill of the same name introduced to the Senate last February by senses Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), so there is bicameral and bipartisan support here.