After a full day and most of a night’s worth of heated debate, the House Judiciary Committee has voted to approve legislation aimed at curbing the market dominance of tech giants — most notably Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook.
Debated on the Hill for the last several weeks by the House committee was a six-bill package that would seek to limit big tech in a variety of ways. The bills were developed off a 450-page report released in April that outlines the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into big platform companies that behave like monopolies. First issued last October, the report calls for major changes to antitrust law and details numerous instances when companies allegedly abused their power.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act is aimed at stopping dominant platforms from discriminating against rivals by offering its own products preference. The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act looks to stop firms from using acquisitions as a means of neutralizing potential threats. The Ending Platform Monopolies Act looks to a ban dominant platforms using their power across multiple types of business to give themselves unfair advantages. The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act seeks to make it easier for consumers to move their data when they want to switch to a new provider. And the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act) changes filing fees for the first time in two decades and provides the government funds to pursue antitrust actions.
The piece of the package that drew the bulk of discussion and debate on the Hill well into Wednesday night (June 23) was the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which was approved early Thursday (June 24) by a vote of 24 to 20. Also passed late Wednesday was the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act, which passed 25-19. The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act and the Ending Platform Monopolies Act were also passed, while the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act to be taken up later Thursday when the committee reconvenes.
The Collective Aim Of The Legislation
The package of legislation, taken as a unit, represents the government’s early attempts at modernizing antitrust to account for the existence of massive tech enterprises by updating antitrust laws to meet the needs of the moment.
“At its core, this issue is fundamentally about whether or not we have an economy where businesses fighting for economic survival can actually succeed,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said of the “unchecked power” of the biggest tech companies. Power that undermines the basic concept of economic fairness, he argued.
And though the legislation has bipartisan support at this phase, that is far from saying it has universal support. Some Republicans, like Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, have voiced concerns that the package was overreaching by handing too much new power to government agencies. Jordan has complained the new bill represents a worrisome instance of Big Tech and government “now marrying up and working together.” He complained that it would give unprecedented power to the FTC to set industrial policy and even impose its own political agenda on the affected companies. Tech-friendly Democrats, on the other hand, have raised concerns that the legislation had not been adequately refined. And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have complained that the laws have been written to punish certain Big Tech firms, while ignoring others like Microsoft Corp.
And most avidly pushing back, of course, are the Big Tech firms set to be most affected by the change in the law.
Tech Pushes Back
As the legislation moves out of committee and on to the House floor and off to the Senate in coming weeks, pushback is building on the concept, pushed particularly by the tech firms to be most acutely affected by it.
“American consumers and small businesses would be shocked at how these bills would break many of their favorite services,” said Mark Isakowitz, vice president of government affairs and public policy for Google. “This would all dramatically undermine U.S. technology leadership, damage the way small businesses connect with consumers and raise serious privacy and security concerns.”
Google wasn’t alone in sounding the alarm about the ultimate outcome of passing this package of bills into law, with Apple releasing a report Wednesday saying an unintended side effect of the bill would be making its app ecosystem less secure by forcing Apple to allow users to download apps onto their phones without having to use the App Store. The company said that would harm customers by threatening their privacy and parental controls and potentially exposing users’ data to ransomware attacks.
Having passed a committee vote, the bills now have to gain general passage in the House before moving on to the Senate where the battle for Big Tech regulation is widely expected to become more uphill.
The White House, thus far, has offered approval of the process — but approval that has seemed notably qualified.
“The president is encouraged by the bipartisan work to address problems created by big tech platforms,” a White House official said. “We hope the legislative process continues to move forward on these bipartisan proposals, and we look forward to working with Congress to continue developing these ideas.”