The US House of Representatives on Friday announced five pieces of legislation that, if passed by Congress and signed by the President, would have the effect of "reining in the country’s biggest tech companies" and could "substantially alter the most richly valued companies in America and reshape an industry that has extended its impact into nearly every facet of work and life," the Wall Street Journal writes.
The rare-for-the-times bipartisan nature of the proposed legislation "underscores the mounting bipartisan interest in overhauling federal competition laws to address long-running allegations that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have engaged in monopoly-style tactics," the Washington Post writes. "The measures would outlaw some of the common ways tech companies allegedly solidified their digital dominance and, in the most severe instances, force them to sell off lines of business that represent a conflict of interest."
The New York Times writes that the bills represent "the most aggressive challenge yet from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley’s tech giants, which have thrived for years without regulation or much restraint on the expansion of their business. Last year, the antitrust subcommittee released a scathing report about the industry after a 16-month investigation, declaring that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google engaged in a variety of monopolistic behavior. The proposals released on Friday try to address the concerns detailed in the report."
The Journal writes "one of the proposed measures, titled the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, seeks to require structural separation of Amazon and other big technology companies to break up their businesses. It would make it unlawful for a covered online platform to own a business that 'utilizes the covered platform for the sale or provision of products or services' or that sells services as a condition for access to the platform. The platform company also couldn’t own businesses that create conflicts of interest, such as by creating the 'incentive and ability' for the platform to advantage its own products over competitors.
'A separate bill takes a different approach to target platforms’ self-preferencing. It would bar platforms from conduct that 'advantages the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of another business user,' or that excludes or disadvantages other businesses."
The Journal goes on:
"Another of the measures would force online platforms to make their services interoperable with those of competitors, which could mean different social networks must allow their users to communicate or allow e-commerce sellers to export their customer reviews from one site to another, according to a summary provided by lawmakers.
"A fourth bill targets mergers, making it unlawful for a large platform to acquire rivals or potential rivals. The bill would have prevented only 'a small percentage of all technology sector deals' over the past decade, the summary said.
"Lawmakers also introduced a bill to raise filing fees for mergers valued more than $1 billion and lower them for transactions under $500,000. It would generate an estimated $135 million for antitrust enforcement in its first year, the summary said. Similar legislation recently passed the Senate."
- KC's View:
I have three concerns about this.
One is that tech companies may be held to a different standard than n on-tech companies.
Two, I worry that legislators don't really understand how retailing works - the whole private label emphasis reflects a lack of nuance in the proposals, best I can tell.
And three, I still think that it will be hard to prove that much of what the lawmakers s object to is actually bad for consumers.
Expect that even if these bills get passed - which is far from assured - there will be legal challenges for years.