Lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Friday unveiled an antitrust package composed of five bills aimed at providing regulators more power to rein in Big Tech companies and potentially force their break up.
The bipartisan initiative is being led by the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee leadership, with each of the five bills having a Republican and Democratic co-sponsor. Each of the bills target different ways that tech companies maintain market dominance by potentially abusing their power.
“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, said in a statement Friday. “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,” he added.
The introduction of the antitrust package comes after the Judiciary subcommittee last year released a report (pdf) in October 2020 alleging a range of anti-competitive practices by dominant tech companies Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. The report was a culmination of a 15-month investigation into their business tactics. It was approved on a party-line vote earlier this year, with not much support from Republicans who were hesitant to back some of the recommendations outlined by Democrats in the report.
The report concluded that the four Big Tech giants—while being investigated for different reasons—have engaged in anti-competitive conduct and abused their market power by “charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them.” The report also said that the four companies “have abused their role as intermediaries” to further expand their dominance through practices such as self-preferencing, predatory pricing, and exclusionary conduct.
The “Big Four” companies have rejected allegations in the report that they are abusing their market power, with their CEOs having testified together in July 2020 before Congress as part of the Judiciary panel’s investigation.
The newly unveiled legislative package’s five bills include the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act” (pdf) which seeks to ban discriminatory conduct, including a ban on the dominant platforms favoring their own products and services over other competitors on their platforms.
The “Platform Competition and Opportunity Act” (pdf) seeks to ban dominant platforms from acquiring competitive threats, which includes acquisitions that expand or entrench their market power of the online platforms. Another bill, the “Ending Platform Monopolies Act,” (pdf) would ban tech companies from leveraging their control across multiple businesses to self-preference, or to disadvantage other competitors “in ways that undermine free and fair competition.”
The fourth bill, referred to as the “ACCESS Act” (pdf) aims to promote competition online by requiring online platforms to lower barriers for users and businesses to enter the online marketplace; to have more control over what the companies do with their personal data; and to switch their data to other serves.
The fifth bill, called the “Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act,” (pdf) would update filing fees for mergers “for the first time in two decades” to make sure that the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission have resources to “aggressively enforce the antitrust laws.”
The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a tech industry group, said in a response that the legislation would “have a severe impact on U.S. economic leadership, and decrease consumers’ ability to enjoy free digital services.”
“Rather than offer broad antitrust reform applicable across the U.S. economy, these proposed regulations focus upon a few companies whose competing products and services are very popular with consumers,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement. “At a time when consumers are frustrated with higher prices and fewer options in other segments of the economy, it’s perplexing that the Committee would not prioritize broad reform.”
“Writing regulations for a handful of businesses will skew competition and leave consumers worse off,” he added. The House bills “would put the government in charge of industrial organization” and “would stop successful tech companies from providing consumers with the products and services that improve their lives,” he said.