By Joseph Chalfant
On June 11, the US House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law introduced five bipartisan bills to take on Big Tech.
The bills target Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Lawmakers seek to make it easier for government agencies to break up companies that abuse their dominant position in the marketplace to shut out competitors and limit predatory acquisitions.
The proposed bills are a follow-up to a 16-month long investigation into the companies. The subcommittee determined that the tech giants were engaged in anti-competitive behavior.
“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” said Antitrust committee chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). “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.”
Opponents to the bills suggested that they are overly broad or inhibit consumers’ ability to find the products or services they want.
“Banning conveniences like Amazon Basics brand batteries, Apple’s Find my Phone tool or Google Maps appearing in Google search results are ideas that would spark a consumer backlash,” said Adam Kovacevich, CEO of tech lobbying group Chamber of Progress.
Some conservative activists are urging Republicans to work with House Democrats and Republican co-sponsors.
Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, asked Republican lawmakers to support the bills in a column for The Federalist on June 14.
“Engaging on this point, particularly in antitrust, should be intuitive for conservatives. Without robust antitrust enforcement, massively concentrated power eventually falls instead to a thicket of complex regulatory policies, which are far less precise, targeted, or efficient—all while easily captured by the regulated parties,” wrote Bovard.
Big Tech regulation hasn’t been limited to the House. On June 14, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill to expand the Department of Justice’s power against companies using monopolistic practices.
The bill, called the TEAM Act, would “ensure that consumers are able to recover damages from anti-competitive conduct” and would allow the Justice Department to “recover treble damages on behalf of consumers,” according to a statement from Lee.
Some experts around Washington have signaled support for the bill.
“The TEAM Act includes a number of welcomed — and targeted — reforms to the nation’s antitrust laws and competition policy. It strengthens enforcement, improves the efficiency with which agencies use resources, and adds much-needed jurisprudential clarity. Importantly, it does not abandon or undermine the Consumer Welfare Standard or use antitrust as a political tool. It codifies the Consumer Welfare standard and clarifies that it does not apply to price factors alone,” Ashley Baker, the Director of Public Policy at the Committee For Justice, told Consumers’ Bulletin.
In practice, the TEAM Act would strip the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission of their antitrust power and consolidate it in the Justice Department. It would also increase the funding of the antitrust division of the Justice Department to $600 million.
Another notable reform would be the introduction of civil fines up to 15% of a company’s total revenue every year that the company has knowingly violated antitrust regulation.
“I was pleased to see that the bill consolidates enforcement under the Department of Justice. The overlapping authority between the DOJ and FTC has led to inefficiencies and has resulted in unpredictable or contradictory outcomes such as, more recently, in FTC v. Qualcomm,” Baker said. “The TEAM Act also contains pro-consumer measures that strengthen specific remedies, such as by repealing the outdated indirect purchaser rule by overriding Illinois Brick and Hanover Shoe.”
Baker does not support all of the antitrust action coming out of Congress, however.
“Unlike the bills recently introduced in the House, the TEAM Act contains targeted solutions for specific problems. The Democrat-driven House bills, on the other hand, are a morass of ideologically-driven mischief that drastically expand government authority and essentially takes a sledgehammer to a pin needle,” said Baker. “It is great to see legislation that takes the nuances and issues in antitrust law seriously.”