As reported on Politico :
House Democrats unveiled their long-promised antitrust package Friday, introducing five bills aimed at reining in some of the nation’s largest tech companies.
Perhaps most ominously for Silicon Valley, some Republican tech critics immediately announced their support, even though the bills do not address GOP complaints such as social media companies’ alleged bias against conservatives. Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, the top GOP member on the House Judiciary antitrust panel, co-sponsored all of the bills.
Four of the bills would prohibit specific behaviors and impose new obligations on the biggest online platforms like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and potentially Microsoft. The fifth would boost funding at the United States’ two antitrust agencies, giving them additional money to help enforce the new laws.
POLITICO previewed the bills’ release earlier this week after obtaining full draft copies of the legislation.
Under the bills, the platforms would be barred from unfairly favoring their own products and buying up potential rivals. They would be required to build new interfaces that allow users or businesses to more easily transfer to competing platforms. And the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission could sue to force the tech giants to sell off parts of their business if they represent an “irreconcilable conflict of interest.”
Public Knowledge’s Charlotte Slaiman described the package as “the most powerful tools that we’ve seen introduced in Congress to address the power of Big Tech."
“It’s a huge deal. What is needed is additional law on top of antitrust focused on Big Tech, which is what this is,” said Slaiman, a former FTC lawyer who now focuses on competition policy for the public advocacy nonprofit. Public Knowledge receives funding from all five of the major platforms, the U.S.’s three major telecoms and publishers like News Corp., though it says it limits the size of corporate donations to ensure its independence.
NetChoice, a trade group backed by major tech companies, immediately blasted the bills and said they would lead to "higher prices, fewer choices, and less innovation."
How much Republican support the legislation garners remains a key question. Although Buck and other Republicans supported the antitrust panel’s investigation into the tech giants last year, they ultimately voted against issuing the resulting Judiciary report because Democrats refused to include their concerns about anti-conservative bias and or urge the repeal of a liability shield for online companies.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) said in a statement that "breaking up the monopoly held by large multinational tech corporations represents one of the most daunting challenges facing our nation."
"For too long, large, oligarchical corporations have feasted on the data and personal information of millions of Americans," Cawthorn added. "It is time to fix this problem at its source, with comprehensive legislation that places the interests of Americans over the interests of mega corporations and their tasseled loafer lobbyists."
The bills are targeted to apply only to the major tech platforms. To face repercussions under the legislation, a business’ parent company would need to have at least $600 billion in annual sales or market capitalization, a figure that narrows the pool down nine companies globally — the five U.S. tech giants, electric carmaker Tesla, Chinese tech behemoths Tencent and Alibaba, and Taiwanese semiconductor company TSMC. The $600 billion amount is tied to inflation.
But the online platform must also have at least 50 million active U.S. users each month or 100,000 active U.S. businesses, criteria that likely cuts down the application to just the U.S. tech companies.
The Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission would be tasked with determining whether the bills apply to an online platform and then enforcing each of the new requirements. State attorneys general or companies harmed by alleged discrimination will also have the ability to sue for damages.
The conflict-of-interest bill, the most controversial of the five measures, would let the FTC or DOJ sue to force the companies to sell off lines of business and is modeled after Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era banking law that separated commercial and investment banking.
If a suit is successful, the company would be required to sell off the business within two years or face significant penalties. Individuals would be prohibited from sitting being an officer or board member of the original company and the spinoff to prevent future conflicts.
Facebook declined to comment on the legislation. Google declined to comment, referring questions to two D.C.-based trade groups to which it belongs, including NetChoice. Microsoft, Amazon and Apple didn’t offer an immediate comment.
Spotify and Roku, two tech companies that have tangled with Apple and Google respectively, both praised the legislation, as did the Coalition for App Fairness, which represents businesses like Epic Games, which sued Apple for antitrust violations last year.
Emily Birnbaum contributed to this report.
Author: Leah Nylen
Date: 2021 06 11
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