House unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants

A House antitrust panel on Friday unveiled a bipartisan agenda made up of five bills that would give regulators greater authority to rein in the power of tech giants.

The bills put forward by leaders of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee follow a blockbuster report released by the Judiciary panel last year alleging ways that Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook abuse their market power. The report was approved on a party-line vote earlier this year. 

Each of the five bills unveiled on Friday includes a Republican co-sponsor.

A bill sponsored by subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) would prohibit tech giants from self-preferencing their own products on their platforms, targeting alleged anti-competitive behavior from Apple in its App Store and Amazon on its digital marketplace. 

Another bill, sponsored by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Gooden, would eliminate the ability of dominant platforms to use their control over multiple businesses to self-preference or disadvantage competitors in ways that undermine free and fair competition. 

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Ken Buck (R-Colo.) are sponsoring a bill that would prohibit platforms from acquiring competitive threats by dominant platforms.

This bill comes as Facebook is facing a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general that targets its acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, and similar criticism has been raised over Google’s deal to buy fitness tracking company Fitbit.

Another bill sponsored by Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) and Burgess Owens (R-Utah) would require online platforms to lower barriers for users and businesses to switch data to other services. 

The final bill introduced Friday by Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) would increase the filing fees paid to antitrust agencies for merger reviews. It’s a companion bill to one introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that was added to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that the upper chamber passed Tuesday. 

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been critical of the market power of tech giants, but House Republicans had been hesitant to back some of the recommendations outlined by Democrats in last year’s report. 

Although the report did not receive GOP support, Buck at the time released a separate GOP-backed report that agreed with the majority’s staff views of the effects of big tech’s market dominance but opposed some of the recommendations. 

In a statement announcing the legislation Friday, Buck underscored the need for immediacy on the issue. 

“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, we must act now,” Buck said. 

Cicilline touted the bills as a way to “level the playing field.” 

“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy. 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 said in a statement. 

The bipartisan bills are already facing pushback from the tech industry. 

Adam Kovacevich, CEO of Chamber of Progress, a self-described “center left” tech industry coalition, argued the legislation could lead to banning conveniences for consumers from Amazon, Apple and Google. 

“Instead of focusing on helping families, these proposals inexplicably target a bunch of technological conveniences that most people really like,” Kovacevich said in a statement. 

But other companies that have been critical of the leading tech giants, such as Spotify and Roku, cheered the proposed legislation. 

The agenda comes as the biggest tech firms are also facing increased legal challenges over allegations of anti-competitive behavior. 

In addition to the case the FTC and many states are beginning against Facebook, Google is facing a series of antitrust lawsuits from states and the DOJ. 

Last month, Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D) filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, alleging the e-commerce behemoth has engaged in anti-competitive business practices. 

The companies have all defended themselves against the allegations of anticompetitive behavior. 

Apple is also facing antitrust allegations, but from the developer behind the popular Fortnite game, Epic Games. 

The lawsuit in California federal court wrapped up last month and a decision is expected from the judge next month. The case revolves around Apple’s 30 percent commission fees for apps, and its requirement for developers to use the Apple in-app payment system. 

Apple has defended its policies, arguing that it helps maintain privacy and security for users.

—Updated at 3:27 p.m.

Tags Alphabet Amazon Amy Klobuchar Antitrust laws antitrust legislation Apple Chuck Grassley David Cicilline Epic Games Facebook Fitbit Google Hakeem Jeffries Instagram Joe Neguse Ken Buck Lance Gooden Mary Gay Scanlon Pramila Jayapal Roku Spotify Tech giants WhatsApp
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