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What Exactly Would the House Antitrust Bills Mean for Big Tech?

Big tech companies could soon be facing down new antitrust rules if a suite of five bills from the U.S. House gain enough support. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have voiced interest in reining in tech monopolies.

The United States Capitol Building.
The United States Capitol Building.
Shutterstock/Ryan Rodrick Beiler
In a move to loosen Big Tech companies’ grip on online commerce, U.S. House lawmakers have introduced five antitrust bills aimed at the likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to hold them accountable for anti-competitive conduct.

The proposed legislation includes the American Innovation and Choice Online Act; the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act; the Ending Platform Monopolies Act; the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act; and the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act.

According to a statement from the office of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the first bill would prohibit discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms, including a ban on self-preferencing.

Essentially, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act would make it illegal for companies like Facebook, Google or Amazon to highlight their businesses over others in the online marketplace. An example of this is Google filtering search results to show its recommendations over its competitors.

The second bill, the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, would prohibit acquisitions of competitive threats by dominant platforms that expand the market power of online platforms.

Under this bill, Big Tech companies would not be able to acquire competitors, potential competitors and firms or assets that would reinforce their monopoly power. An example of this is Facebook acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014.

The Ending Platform Monopolies Act would eliminate the ability of dominant platforms to leverage their control across multiple business lines to disadvantage competitors in ways that undermine free and fair competition.

This bill would make it illegal for tech companies to own another line of business that is a conflict of interest. An example of this is Amazon promoting AmazonBasics products instead of other competitors’ products on its platform.

The fourth bill, the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act, would promote competition by lowering entry barriers and switching costs for businesses and consumers through interoperability and data portability requirements.

This bill would require platforms to make user data portable and interoperable with other services. For example, if you wanted to download photos or other data from Facebook or any other big tech company, this bill would make it so users can easily move their data from one platform to another.

And lastly, the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act would update filing fees for mergers to ensure that the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission can enforce the proposed antitrust laws.

This bill will provide more funds to the FTC and the DOJ to investigate and enforce antitrust issues and raise fees for large companies that request approval to merge.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see the proposal of these bills,” Alex Petros, policy counsel for Public Knowledge, said. “The House Antitrust Subcommittee did an exhaustive two-year investigation on these companies, detailing the extent of their influence on the online marketplace.”

An example of this influence, Petros said, is Google filtering search results to show specific products or recommendations instead of competitors.

“Let’s say someone goes to Google and searches for plumbers in Washington, D.C., Google’s recommendations would come first, instead of other companies that compete with Google like Yelp,” Petros said.

Because of this, Google has significantly impacted the online marketplace, Petros said. Because these bills have had such strong bipartisan support, they may have a greater chance of moving forward, he added.

“I think it’s a tremendous step forward,” he said. “Multiple Democrats and Republicans are on board and advocating for these bills. I’m really excited to see where they go.”

As for House lawmakers’ point of view on the legislation, Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a release, “Big Tech has abused its dominance in the marketplace to crush competitors, censor speech and control how we see and understand the world.”

“This legislation,” Buck said, “breaks up Big Tech’s monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online and fosters an online market that encourages innovation and provides American small businesses with a fair playing field.”

Fellow bill sponsor Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, echoed a similar message about the legislation, highlighting the need to regulate mergers.

“Filing fees for large mergers have not changed in 20 years yet merger activity, particularly in technology, is at or near all-time highs,” Roy said in a release. “As we evaluate what changes to make our antitrust laws adapt to a new marketplace, an obvious first step is fully enforcing our existing antitrust tools by providing regulators the resources they need to go up against companies with trillions in capital.”

However, despite receiving bipartisan support from lawmakers, several organizations have come out and voiced their opposition against the bills.

According to an article from Reuters, 13 organizations wrote to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee earlier today to urge lawmakers to vote against two of the antitrust bills.

The two bills include the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

According to the article, the groups are concerned that “Cicilline’s bill would ban platforms from giving advantages to their businesses while Jayapal’s would ban platforms from competing on their own platform.”

Some of the examples the groups gave are that the bills would prevent Google from including YouTube videos in search results and block Apple from preinstalling “Find My Phone” on new iPhones. They also argued that Jayapal’s bill would force companies like Google to sell Maps, YouTube and other free services.

“We believe that voters want Congress to fix things that are broken — not break or ban things that they feel are working well,” the groups said.

A few of these groups include the Chamber of Progress, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and NetChoice.

As for next steps, the bills will be referred to the House Judiciary Committee for review.
Katya Diaz is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.