House lawmakers introduce five bipartisan bills to unwind tech monopolies

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

On Friday, House Democrats introduced five new bills meant to chip away at the power of big tech companies, targeting a variety of practices that antitrust advocates say are stifling competition.

These measures are the House Judiciary Committee’s historic, 16-month long investigation into the business tactics of companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. With this new slate of bills, Congress is getting ready to legislate based on the concerns raised by that investigation — and the move could reshape the tech industry as we know it.

“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,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) said in a statement Friday. “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.”

The package unveiled Friday includes five measures targeting the different ways in which tech companies maintain market dominance. One bill would empower the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission to break up tech firms by forcing them to sell off parts of their business that could create a conflict of interest — potentially forcing Amazon to carve off house brands like Amazon Basics.

Another bill would bar companies from giving their own services preference over their rivals, like Google boosting its own products in search results over competitors. Yet another bill would block companies like Facebook from buying up nascent competitors like in the 2012 acquisition of Instagram.

The last two bills are less controversial. Last week, the Senate already passed a measure put out by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would boost merger filing fees for large companies, giving antitrust enforcers more money to take on cases. A bill mirroring that legislation was introduced Wednesday. The last bill would force platforms to make the data they collect interoperable in order to make it easier for users to jump from one service to another. Both Republicans and Democrats seem eager to move forward on data portability legislation.

The House’s tech investigation was a bipartisan endeavor, and while both parties agree on many of the probe’s findings, they disagree on some of the solutions. The probe culminated into an over 400-page report from Democratic staff detailing its findings. Rep. Ken Buck (CO), the committee’s top Republican, issued his own report focusing on the ways large platforms allegedly censor conservative speech and encouraging other Republicans to support competition reform as a means of addressing the issue.

It’s unclear how lawmakers plan to move forward on the legislation, but the multi-pronged approach could make it easier to enact some changes over the coming Term. More measured approaches like Klobuchar’s to boost regulatory funding could find broad support in the House.

At least one Republican and one Democrat signed on to each of Friday’s measures. Still it’s unclear if all members support each bill. On Thursday, Axios reported that lobbyists for Rupert Murdoch’s media companies, like Fox Corp. and News Corp., were urging House Republicans to support the measures.

“These companies have maintained monopoly power in the online marketplace by using a variety of anticompetitive behaviors to stifle competition,” Buck said in a statement Friday. “Doing nothing is not an option, we must act now.”

Comments

I really don’t understand the US sometimes.

On one hand you always hear ‘ free market capitalism is the way , less government , anyone can be a success in an open unregulated market’ blah blah. On the other hand you hear ‘ok you’re too successful and too big and people need more choice’ blah blah blah.

Well which one is it ?

The simple answer is that it’s a very large country where multiple viewpoints, including the two you have mentioned, and that people disagree upon which view is correct. Roughly, the two viewpoints you stated were the opposing positions of the two major political parties pre-2016 (one of the political parties is potentially undergoing a shift in this particular view since 2016 and particularly since their losses at the end of 2020, due to putting more focus on the outward cultural positions of the business rather than their size/ability to market, but its still up in the air whether they make that full shift or it snaps back to the pre-2016 position).

US Capitalist society provides fantastic opportunities to anyone to become successful. Monopolies are a threat to capitalism.
When any individual company becomes too big, it stifles competition.
Competition being the life blood of Capitalism.

You’re right , and I agree with you , but it still seems to me like ( no matter how unfavourable it may be ) that they have the right to be that successful ?

There’s a difference between a right to be successful and buying out or firewalling your competition. Facebook is the most egregiously public offender of this.

yup. Successful and being a monopoly are two different things.

Monopoly is the end state of capitalism. The point of competition is to win.

It’s why the only successful market has been a regulated one. It’s why regulated monopolies have produced better results, jobs, and technologies than the sum-whole of their broken up pieces.

The other simple answer is that markets are not magic. Certain sets of assumptions have to hold in order for them to function efficiently. One of those assumptions is that markets must be competitive. This isn’t a recent or groundbreaking discovery. It’s literally been around since Adam Smith. It’s entirely consistent to be in favor of both market-capitalism and regulatory structures to prevent anti-competitive abuse by large dominant players.

Looks to me like Dems took the bait to regulate tech while also at the same time saying we need to counter the Chinese. This will be interesting to see play out both in terms of how competitive tech companies will be against Chinese companies if these regulations are implemented and also politically as both sides seem to agree on regulating tech companies.

These regulations are not going to weak US tech companies’ position against Chinese tech companies. Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook face almost no competition from any Chinese counterparts right now.

Most of the Chinese competition in the US is in hardware and gaming (Tencent). While TikTok is social media, its product is much different than other services.

not sure you understand what you are saying.

Apple is competing against many chinese smartphone maker and unlike other big tech, Apple have direct exposure from China market (other are banned).

Amazon is competing against Alibaba both in global commerce and cloud services, and plethora of Alibaba/Tencent/JD/Softbank-backed e-commerce.

Google is competing against Tencent and Alibaba in platform and content

Facebook is competing against Tiktok and Wechat mostly from china

Tesla is competing against Nio, Xpeng, whatever other low cost EV from china and other legacy automaker.

The market is not US anymore, it is the world.

Finally, someone who knows what they’re talking about.

It’s clear you don’t understand my point. None of the examples you mentioned pose a threat to US tech companies in their main markets (US, Europe).

All of your examples are companies dominant mostly in the Chinese market and parts of Asia, and the main reason for their success has been China’s refusal to allow US tech companies to fairly compete in their country. The only company that is making significant grounds in the US is Tiktok, which as I said before, has a product that is different enough from any offering that a US social media company offers.

What a strange question. Demanding that everyone in a country agree a single idea.

Not demanding anything , but it seems like the same viewpoints often come from the same people.

Putting aside that individuals are often more than capable of carrying contradictory viewpoints, I wouldn’t consider at all contradictory to recognize the merciless efficiency and relentless effectiveness of markets, with all the wealth they create, while at the same time having an appreciation for a fair an equitable regulatory state that can act as guardrails against extreme risk taking, dehumanizing decision-making, etc.

One comparison I’ve heard is that of a very powerful industrial machine in a factory. You would never just turn such a machine on and walk away. It has to be tended, watched, maintained, oiled, etc.

You have to realize that antitrust is the centrepiece of a functioning "free market". Also, in the EU, it is market-liberals such as Vestager that have the strongest stance on monopolies & competition.

What a nonsense question. You might as well say, I don’t understand country xyz because some people there like the color blue and some prefer the color red.
Here’s a poll, see where you fall:
https://www.politicalcompass.org/test

Interesting link. Apparently, I’m mostly Left-Libertarian, which is odd as I’ve never liked the Libertarian point of view.

We fell at basically exactly the same spot on the chart.

Because what most Americans refer to when they say "Libertarian" is right-libertarian. The ideology started in the left but was co-opted by the right, as with many other things.

The Political Compass was developed by libertarians and basically tells everyone they’re libertarian, by design. In other words, while it appears to be a value-neutral categorization system, it’s really a political tool for pushing libertarianism. The diversity of political ideology that exists in the real world is too rich and nuanced to be simplified into only two axes, and this particular oversimplification is just libertarian propaganda. (Note I’m not saying anything about libertarianism itself, just about the Political Compass tool.)

Economic Left/Right: -6.13
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.87

Basically if the chart were 9 squares , top right of the bottom left square. About exactly where I would have guessed.

you always hear ‘ free market capitalism is the way , less government , anyone can be a success in an open unregulated market’

This has been grinding my gears lately. We don’t have free market capitalism in the US. It’s barely close. We have big corporate welfare, that the government creates.

In a true capitalist free market, yes, you would have big companies; but you would also have more opportunity competition.

The government needs to treat small businesses the same way they treat big businesses, but that’s not the case.

Regulatory capture is a big problem in this country. The reason is that people are not elected based on their antitrust positions. They are elected because of positions they take on ‘hot button’ issues such as gun control, abortion, immigration, healthcare, etc. If you’re pro-choice and believe Roe v. Wade is all that stands between what we have now and A Handmaid’s Tale, then when you’re presented with two candidates, one pro-choice and the other pro-life, you don’t really have a choice. It doesn’t matter what the candidates’ views are on import licenses for bananas, whether the Chief of Staff for some random Assistant Deputy Undersecretary should be allowed to take a job in the industry they supervise, or fluctuations in wholesale electrical power.

If voters don’t care about an issue then politicians will not hold themselves accountable to the voters on that issue. They instead become a special place for perks and favors.

In order to make candidates accountable to the public some reform is needed to make these big, important issues less big and important, and the number one way to do that is to eliminate the power of party activists by eliminating party specific primaries and adopting policies to create more moderate, holistic candidates.

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