Top antitrust Democrat opens hearing by comparing big tech firms to past monopolies

Top antitrust Democrat opens hearing by comparing big tech firms to past monopolies
© Greg Nash

Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineClark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race Races heat up for House leadership posts The folly of Cicilline's 'Glass-Steagall for Tech' MORE (D-R.I.), the chairman of a panel hearing testimony Wednesday from CEOs of four of the nation's largest tech companies, compared America’s biggest tech companies to historic monopolies such as AT&T and Microsoft during his opening statement.

"When the American people confronted monopolists in the past — be it the railroads and oil tycoons or AT&T and Microsoft — we took action to ensure no private corporation controls our economy or our democracy,” he said.

Cicilline, who has led the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust's yearlong investigation into tech companies, also described the biggest platforms as “emperors of the online economy.”

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He argued that the power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google has limited consumer choice and stunted innovation.

“And while these dominant firms may still produce some new innovative products, their dominance is killing the small businesses, manufacturing and overall dynamism that are the engines of the American economy,” he said, pre-empting a likely defense from the executives.

Cicilline also noted that the coronavirus pandemic has intensified reliance on tech companies, which have seen their market values swell while the rest of the economy has suffered.

He also outlined some of the competition issues that link the companies, which some experts say should have testified separately because of the unique antitrust cases against them.

“First, each platform is a bottleneck for a key channel of distribution,” he said. "Second, each platform uses its control over digital infrastructure to surveil other companies — their growth, business activity and whether they might pose a competitive threat.”

“Third,” he continued, “these platforms abuse their control over current technologies to extend their power. Whether it’s through self-preferencing, predatory pricing, or requiring users to buy additional products, the dominant platforms have wielded their power in destructive, harmful ways in order to expand.”