WASHINGTON – House lawmakers on Friday introduced sweeping antitrust legislation aimed at reining in the power of Big Tech and preventing corporate consolidation. If passed, the bill would be the most ambitious update of monopoly laws in decades.
The bills — five in total — take direct targets at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google and their take on online commerce, information and entertainment. The proposals would make it easier to sabotage businesses that use their dominance in one sector to gain strongholds in another, create new barriers to takeover of nascent rivals and empower regulators to police companies with more money.
The law can reshape the way companies operate. For example, Facebook and Google may have a high bar to prove that no merger is competitive. Amazon may face more scrutiny when it sells its branded products like toilet paper and clothing. Apple may be having a tough time entering the new lines of business it promotes on its App Store.
“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, drive up prices on consumers, and put people out of work,” says Rod Representative David Sicilin, Democrat of the island and chairman of the antitrust subcommittee. “Our agenda will be to level the playing field and ensure that the richest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”
The introduction of the bills, which have some bipartisan support, is the most aggressive challenge yet from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley’s tech giants, who have thrived for years without regulation or greater restraint on expanding their business. Last year, the antitrust subcommittee issued A scathing report about the industry after 16 months of investigation, declaring that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are engaged in a variety of monopolistic practices. The resolutions released on Friday seek to address the concerns detailed in the report.
Over the past decade, dozens of bills addressing data privacy, speech liability and the safety of children online have failed. But efforts to curb the dominance of the biggest tech companies have received widespread support in recent years. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission charged during the Trump administration Google and Facebook For anti-competitive practices and filed lawsuits that are expected to be fought over the years. Democrats and Republicans point to the dominance of a handful of firms as root causes of the spread of misinformation, inequality in labor and wages, and disorganized rules for speech on the Internet.
“These are just the kinds of new laws we need to address the problem of gatekeeper power through effective digital platforms,” said Charlotte Sleman, competition director for public interest group Public Knowledge. “Big tech firms have a lot of powerful tools to defend their monopolies. These bills will give antitrust enforcers some more powerful tools to open the digital platform market to competition.”
The Bills set up a showdown with the tech industry’s powerful influence armies. Over the past decade, the industry has gathered the largest group of lobbyists in Washington, and companies sponsor think tanks, fund academic papers and top antitrust litigation firms to protect their businesses.
Some proposals are likely to find widespread support among lawmakers, including one focused on getting more funding for antitrust agencies through higher merger fees; The Senate recently passed a similar bill. Another bill that could gain traction would be giving consumers the ability to carry their digital histories to other websites, weakening the hold on personal data large companies like Facebook hold.
But passing other bills will be difficult. For a company like Google, which has a major search engine, it would make it illegal to own another business that relies heavily on online search. For example, the company won’t be allowed to support search results for its YouTube video service under the new law, and may be required to shut down the video business if it endorses it over competitors. Another bill would ban a major company from using its weight to out-compete rivals and from other conditions, such as buying goods and services from the company, who want access to its platform.
Adam Kovacevich, head of the Chamber of Progress, a lobbying group with Big Tech members, said consumers would be deprived of popular products if the bill was successful.
“Displaying features such as the Amazon Basics brand battery, Apple’s Find My Phone tool or Google Maps in Google search results are ideas that will provoke consumer reaction,” he said.
Facebook and Google declined to comment. Amazon and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A few smaller tech companies applauded the bills.
Online streaming device maker Roku said in a statement that the biggest tech companies “blatantly ignore” existing antitrust laws and harm consumers.
“An aggressive set of reforms are needed to prevent a future where these monopolists abuse consumer choice and hinder access to innovative and independent products,” the company said.
Antitrust experts say the bill will encourage enforcers, who have been constrained by court decisions that have narrowed the interpretation of centuries-old antitrust laws.
“It’s a response to the fact that our antitrust laws have been so narrowly understood by the Supreme Court,” said Eleanor M. Fox, a law professor at New York University. “Because of this problem, it is highly appropriate for Congress to prohibit and determine what is bad and what is good for the markets.”
Republicans are divided on aspects of the bill. Colorado Representative Ken Buck, a Republican on the subcommittee, has been a frequent critic of Big Tech’s power. But he has also stressed on diluting aspects of the laws to ensure that smaller companies don’t get carried away by the changes.
Mr Buck, like other Republicans, has been particularly critical of social media firms’ power over speech and has accused Facebook and Google of censorship of conservative political figures.
“This law controls the monopoly power of Big Tech that Americans see and say online,” he said, “and fosters an online marketplace that encourages innovation and provides American small businesses with a fair playing field.” does. Doing nothing is not an option. We act now.”