President Joe Biden has signed an executive order meant to promote competition — with technology directly in the crosshairs.
The order, which the White House outlined earlier this morning, calls on US agencies like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to implement 72 specific provisions. The topics include restoring net neutrality provisions repealed during the prior administration, codifying “right to repair” rules, and increasing scrutiny of tech monopolies.
Biden emphasized a few of the provisions in a press conference before signing the order. He singled out requests that the Food and Drug Administration let people buy hearing aids as over-the-counter products — building on a law signed by former President Donald Trump in 2017 — and that the FTC ban or restrict noncompete clauses that limit workers’ ability to switch jobs, a type of policy that’s common in the tech industry.
The order also includes changes aimed at giving internet subscribers more choices and better service. It asks the FCC to require internet service providers to report prices and subscription rates, prevent ISPs from making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ options, and revive Obama-era net neutrality rules.
Democratic FCC commissioners praised the order. “Every American should have high-quality, affordable broadband. Today’s executive order spotlights the values that should drive our work toward that goal: affordability, fairness, competition, innovation, and consumer choice,” said commissioner Geoffrey Starks in a statement. “The tens of millions of Americans without reliable internet access are counting on us — at the FCC and across the federal government — to fight for a more vibrant and inclusive broadband marketplace.” FCC acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel also commended the move, saying that “our economy thrives on competition.”
Right-to-repair efforts could also get a shot in the arm. Biden tasked the FTC with trying to “limit powerful equipment manufacturers from restricting people’s ability to use independent repair shops or do DIY repairs.” As Vice noted earlier today, the order is broader than implied in an announcement earlier this week — covering all electronics, not just farming equipment. Biden’s FTC previously issued a report on right-to-repair issues called “Nixing the Fix,” concluding that “many of the explanations manufacturers’ gave for repair restrictions aren’t well-founded.”
And when it comes to Big Tech, the administration’s agenda now specifically includes a mandate to require “greater scrutiny of mergers, especially by dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.” Via the FTC, the Biden administration plans a push to place more rules on surveillance and data collection, which should affect many of the largest tech companies in the world.
The administration even addresses limited potential patent policy reform, asking the Attorney General and the Secretary of Commerce to examine their position on “the intersection of the intellectual property and antitrust laws” to avoid an “anticompetitive extension of market power beyond the scope of granted patents.”
The administration claims that the 72 initiatives are being undertaken to promote competition and raise wages. But it will be up to the various agencies, as well as Congress, to provide funding and action to make these things happen.
Update 3PM ET: Added details after Biden’s official signing of the order.
Update 6PM ET: Added details about patent policy.