June 17, 2021

Big Tech Under Scrutiny in the House

Five new bills aim to rein in some of the excesses of the biggest technology companies.

The House Judiciary Committee announced last Friday that it is moving forward with a slate of bills to address the outsized and growing power and market dominance of Big Tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. This is the first significant bipartisan attempt by Congress to take on the tech giants, and the House Antitrust Subcommittee introduced the bills by saying the goal is “holding unregulated Big Tech monopolies accountable for anti-competitive conduct.”

Both parties see a problem. “Big Tech has abused its dominance in the marketplace to crush competitors, censor speech, and control how we see and understand the world,” argued the Judiciary’s ranking Republican, Ken Buck of Colorado. “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. Doing nothing is not an option.”

The big tech bills coming out of the committee are:

  • The “American Innovation and Choice Online Act” to prohibit businesses from taking actions on their platforms that favor their own products or services

  • The “Platform Competition and Opportunity Act” to prevent acquisitions of competitive rivals that expand or entrench the market power of online platforms

  • The “Ending Platform Monopolies Act” to promote competition and fairness in online marketplaces by eliminating conflicts of interest that arise when online platforms control a marketplace while selling products on it

  • The “Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act,” which lowers barriers to entry and switching costs for businesses and consumers that want to move between online platforms

  • The “Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act,” which will raise filing fees for digital mergers and acquisitions and increase antitrust enforcement resources.

Conspicuously absent from this bipartisan legislative package are any bills addressing Big Tech’s attacks on free speech.

Since Donald Trump’s presidency began, social media giants have become more brazen and unrepentant about stifling conservative speech online. Facebook and Twitter routinely buried content that ran counter to the official government narrative during the COVID pandemic, along with any reporting that was unflattering to Joe Biden during the 2020 campaign. There are also plenty of examples of Amazon manipulating its marketplace to achieve ideological conformity.

The hope is that these bills will help loosen the ideological stranglehold Big Tech has on free speech by forcing companies to open up to competition and become more neutral forces in the marketplace of ideas.

Some legislators have raised concerns that the legislation gives too much authority to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, which could mire potentially effective outcomes in bureaucratic red tape. However, there is hope that this first congressional antitrust legislation in 20 years could yield positive results. After years of doing nothing to combat Big Tech’s outsized influence on the economy, these bills represent a welcome opportunity to make a change.

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