Skip to main content

Congress blew its last chance to curb Big Tech’s power

Congress blew its last chance to curb Big Tech’s power


Well, for the next few years at least.

Share this story

The image is an illustration of the US Capitol building overlaid on a star patterned background.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Tech platforms spent millions opposing sweeping antitrust reforms, and their lobbyists may soon be able to breathe a giant sigh of relief — at least for the next few years.

Early Tuesday morning, the House Committee on Appropriations released a more than 4,000-page bill stacked with congressional priorities. But notably, a pair of antitrust bills that received broad bipartisan support was not included in the final measure. The bills were approved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee nearly a year ago, but they haven’t yet been brought up for a floor vote. As part of a last-ditch effort to approve the bills, lawmakers tried to attach them to the must-pass spending bill, but the effort did not receive the backing necessary from congressional leadership.

For more than three years, lawmakers have held dozens of hearings and introduced a number of bipartisan bills to reform the tech industry. But the Open App Markets Act (OAMA) and the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICO) saw the most support, despite expensive lobbying campaigns from tech companies opposing them. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-CT) timely OAMA would ban tech giants like Google and Apple from strong-arming third-party developers to enter into anticompetitive agreements to be hosted on their company app stores. The AICO, spearheaded by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), would have stopped Big Tech companies from providing preferential treatment to their own products and services across their platforms.

Monday’s omissions effectively kill the bills

Monday’s omissions effectively kill the bills and make it highly unlikely that they’ll be brought up for a floor vote for several years, especially with an incoming GOP majority in the House. Republicans are already turning their attention away from competition reform and toward more partisan issues like alleged conservative censorship online.

Facing pressure from Republicans and Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has repeatedly promised to hold a vote on the pair of bipartisan antitrust bills. Schumer first promised a vote by the end of the summer and then a vote this fall. But as the end of the year approaches, Schumer has yet to make good on that promise.

“Senator Schumer has erased a much of the goodwill he formed with the tech startup ecosystem during the net neutrality debates. He spent a full year running interference for the most powerful companies in the world and repeating the myth that this broadly popular bipartisan legislation ‘didn’t have the votes,’” Luther Lowe, senior vice president of public policy at Yelp, told The Verge on Tuesday. “Thanks to him, Europe will lead the global rulemaking for the internet indefinitely, and European consumers are enjoying better protections than US consumers.” 

Passing antitrust legislation was a priority for the White House as well. Speaking with reporters last month, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We are very committed to moving ambitious tech antitrust legislation and we’re stepping up engagement during the lame duck on the President’s agenda across the board, including antitrust.”

As momentum to approve antitrust reform grew, Big Tech companies engaged in a multimillion-dollar spending spree lobbying against the bills. Since the start of last year, tech giants like Amazon, Meta, and Google spent over $120 million on television ads to discredit the legislation, according to Bloomberg.

In spite of Congress’ regulator failures concerning tech, government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission have launched a series of high-profile lawsuits targeting the market dominance of large firms. Earlier this summer, the FTC filed a complaint to block Meta from acquiring Within, a virtual reality fitness app developer. Just last week, the agency sued Microsoft challenging its $68.7 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard

The European Union has also continued to regulate the American tech sector even if Congress’ own efforts have failed. Bloomberg has reported that Apple is planning to start allowing users to install third-party app stores on their devices in Europe. The move came in response to the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), a measure to open up online marketplaces to more competition.