On Friday, Democrats in parliament introduced five new bills designed to repel the power of major technology companies targeting various practices that antitrust advocates say are stifling competition.
These measures are the historic, 16-month investigation into the business tactics of companies such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, the court commission. With this new list of bills, Congress is preparing to pass legislation based on the concerns raised by this investigation – and this move could reshape the technology industry as we know it.
“Currently, unregulated technology monopolies have too much power over our economy. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise consumer prices and exclude people from work,” spokesman David Sicillin (D-RI) said in a statement on Friday. “Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure that the richest and most powerful technology monopolies play by the same rules as others.”
The package, presented on Friday, includes five measures addressing the different ways in which technology companies maintain market dominance. A bill would authorize the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission to break up technology companies, forcing them to sell parts of their business that could create a conflict of interest – potentially forcing Amazon to separate its own brands such as Amazon Basics.
Another bill would prohibit companies from giving preference to their own services over their competitors, with Google increasing its own products in search results over competitors. Another bill would block companies like Facebook from buying emerging competitors, as they did with the acquisition of Instagram in 2012.
The last two bills are less controversial. Last week, the Senate already passed a measure put forward by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would increase merger registration fees for large companies, giving antitrust executors more money to sue. A bill reflecting that legislation was introduced on Wednesday. The latter bill will force platforms to make the data they collect interoperable to make it easier for users to jump from one service to another. Both Republicans and Democrats seem eager to move forward with data portability legislation.
The House’s technical investigation was a bipartisan undertaking, and while both sides agreed on many of the probe’s findings, they disagreed on some of the decisions. The investigation ended with a report of more than 400 pages of Democratic Party officials describing the results. Representative Ken Buck (Colorado), the commission’s best Republican, published his own report, focusing on the ways in which major platforms claim to censor conservative speech and encouraging other Republicans to support competition reform as a means of tackling the problem.
It is not clear how legislators plan to move forward on the legislation, but the multilateral approach may facilitate some changes over the next term. More measured approaches such as Klobuchar’s stimulation of regulatory funding could find widespread support in Parliament.
At least one Republican and one Democrat joined each of the measures on Friday. It is not yet clear whether all members support each bill. In Thursday, Axios reported that lobbyists for Rupert Murdoch’s media companies, such as Fox Corp. and News Corp., called on Republicans in parliament to support the measures.
“These companies maintain monopoly power in the online marketplace, using a variety of anti-competitive behavior to stifle competition,” Buck said in a statement Friday. “Doing nothing is not an option, we must act now.”