House committee unveils bipartisan Big Tech antitrust agenda

Five bills would trim the monopolies of technology firms such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is joining forces with Republicans on House Judiciary to introduce antitrust bills aimed at the big technology firms.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is joining forces with Republicans on House Judiciary to introduce antitrust bills aimed at the big technology firms. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 11, 2021 at 5:26pm

The House Judiciary Committee announced on Friday a bipartisan legislative agenda for regulating dominant technology firms including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

The announcement by Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Ken Buck, R-Colo., the chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, brings full circle the efforts by lawmakers over the past two years to investigate allegations of monopoly power online and to devise legislation aimed at curbing market dominance.

“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,” Cicilline said in a statement.

He said the legislative agenda “will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”

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Cicilline and Buck announced the introduction of five bills that aim to address alleged anti-competitive behavior uncovered by a 16-month investigation of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google that the Judiciary Committee concluded last year. Each lawmaker is sponsoring one of the package's marquee pieces of legislation.

The first bill, sponsored by Cicilline and GOP Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas, would prohibit online platforms from self-preferencing or "gatekeeping," which involves directing existing users to an internal service when a complimentary service — perhaps a better one — already exists. Amazon’s Prime shopping label and Apple’s App Store have been cited as examples.

Buck and Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York are sponsoring the second bill, which seeks to prohibit dominant platforms from acquiring smaller firms that pose a competitive risk. Throughout its investigation, the committee homed in on Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick and Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp as possible attempts to buy out the competition.

“Big Tech has abused its dominance in the marketplace to crush competitors, censor speech, and control how we see and understand the world,” Buck said in a statement. “Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have prioritized power over innovation and harmed American businesses and consumers in the process.”

The third and fourth bills are aimed at tactics that Big Tech uses to prevent smaller firms from entering the market. They would ban platforms from engaging in business where conflicts of interest exist and require them to abide by interoperability and data portability standards. They are sponsored by Gooden and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., and Burgess Owens, R-Utah, respectively.

The fifth bill, by Reps. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., would increase the fees charged by the Federal Trade Commission to companies seeking to acquire or merge with other companies. The fees would then bolster the agency’s antitrust enforcement budget.

Of all the bills, the merger fee update legislation may stand the best chance of becoming law. Legislation passed by the Senate earlier this week included a version of the legislation.

Despite their bipartisan backing, the other bills in the package face an uphill climb. Most Republicans, while willing to criticize Big Tech companies, are hesitant to change long-standing antitrust laws that could upend other sectors of the economy that also operate online. And while some Democrats favor breaking up major technology firms, the support isn’t universal.