House lawmakers today announced sweeping bipartisan legislation aimed at big tech that if passed, they said would “expand opportunities for consumers, workers, and small business owners.” It would radically reshape some of the world’s biggest companies, requiring them to shed businesses and refrain from deals that “expand or entrench their power.”
Sentiment against the massive sway of tech behemoths has sparked antitrust state and federal lawsuits, probes in the U.S. and abroad, as well as legislation in the Senate. Lawmakers say tech giants act as unregulated monopolies engaged in anti-competitive conduct. Tech CEOs have been pulled in to testify before House and Senate Committees multiple times over the past year and pummeled for that, as well as for issues ranging from privacy to censorship, hate speech, civil rights violations and unsavory advertising practices.
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Apple was sued by Epic Games over the 30% fee its App Store charges developers for transaction on its platform. The bench trial wrapped last month and a verdict is pending.
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg for one has said he’d welcome more regulation — at least in terms of speech that’s allowed or not on that service. But executives all defend their businesses as offering myriad benefits for consumers and partners.
“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, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work. Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us,” said House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI).
He led the push, along with Ranking Member Ken Buck (D-CO), that resulted in a package of five bills. It followed a 16-month investigation by the committee that concluded last year into the state of competition in the digital marketplace.
“Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have prioritized power over innovation and harmed American businesses and consumers in the process. These companies have maintained monopoly power in the online marketplace by using a variety of anticompetitive behaviors to stifle competition. This legislation breaks up Big Tech’s monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online, and fosters an online market that encourages innovation and provides American small businesses with a fair playing field,” said Buck.
The bills include:
-The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act: prohibits acquisitions of competitive threats by dominant platforms, as well acquisitions that expand or entrench the market power of online platforms.
Facebook in particular has been taken to task for buying Instagram and other smaller rivals to maintain its social media dominance.
–The Ending Platform Monopolies Act: eliminates the ability of dominant platforms to leverage their control over across multiple business lines to self-preference and disadvantage competitors in ways that undermine free and fair competition.
This would lead breakups of Amazon and other big tech companies by prohibiting them from owning a business that uses the platform “for the sale or provision of products or services” or that sells services as a condition of accessing the platform. Companies couldn’t own businesses that create conflicts of interest, where the platform has incentive and ability to advantage its own products over competitors. Retailers on Amazon’s marketplace have accused the company of mining their data to undercut them.
-The American Innovation and Choice Online Act: prohibits discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms, including a ban on self-preferencing “and picking winners and losers online.”
–The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act: updates filing fees for mergers for the first time in two decades to ensure that Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission have the resources they need to aggressively enforce the antitrust laws. It raises the fees for mergers valued at over $1 billion and lowers them for deals of under $500,000.
The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act: promotes competition online by lowering barriers to entry and switching costs for businesses and consumers through interoperability and data portability requirements.
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