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House OKs Antitrust Bill on Big Tech   09/30 06:13

   The House on Thursday approved antitrust legislation targeting the dominance 
of Big Tech companies by giving states greater power in competition cases and 
increasing money for federal regulators.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House on Thursday approved antitrust legislation 
targeting the dominance of Big Tech companies by giving states greater power in 
competition cases and increasing money for federal regulators.

   The bipartisan measure passed by a 242-184 vote. It was separated from more 
ambitious provisions aimed at reining in Meta, Google, Amazon and Apple and 
cleared by key House and Senate committees. Those proposals have languished for 
months, giving the companies time for vigorous lobbying campaigns against them.

   The more limited bill would give states an upper hand over companies in 
choosing the location of courts that decide federal antitrust cases. Proponents 
say this change would avert the "home-court advantage" that Big Tech companies 
enjoy in federal court in Northern California, where many of the cases are 
tried and many of the companies are based.

   Many state attorneys general have pursued antitrust cases against the 
industry, and many states joined with the Justice Department and the Federal 
Trade Commission in their landmark lawsuits against Google and Meta (then 
called Facebook), respectively, in late 2020.

   The bill also would increase filing fees paid by companies to federal 
agencies for all proposed mergers worth $500 million or more, while reducing 
the fees for small and medium-sized transactions. The aim is to increase 
revenue for federal enforcement efforts.

   Under the bill, companies seeking approval for mergers would have to 
disclose subsidies they received from countries deemed to pose strategic or 
economic risks to the United States -- especially China.

   "We find ourselves in a monopoly moment as a country," Rep. Lori Trahan, 
D-Mass., said before the vote. "Multibillion-dollar corporations have grown 
into behemoths, eliminating any real competition in their industries and using 
their dominance to hurt small businesses and consumers. Meta's monopoly power 
has enabled it to harm women, children and people of all ages without recourse. 
Amazon has used its dominance to copy competitors' products and run small 
businesses into the ground."

   The Biden administration, which has pushed for antitrust legislation 
targeting Big Tech, endorsed the bill this week.

   The legislation drew fierce opposition from conservative Republicans who 
split from their GOP colleagues supporting the bill. The conservatives objected 
to the proposed revenue increase for the antitrust regulators, arguing there 
has been brazen overreach by the FTC under President Joe Biden.

   Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., described the FTC's leader, Lina Khan, as a 
"a radical leftist seeking to replace consumers' decisions with her own."

   Another California Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa, told his colleagues, "If 
you want to stifle innovation, vote for this."

   If Republicans win control of the House or Senate in the November elections, 
they are certain to try to crimp the activism of the FTC and to challenge its 
broader interpretation of its legal authority.

   The more sweeping antitrust proposals would restrict powerful tech companies 
from favoring their own products and services over rivals on their platforms 
and could even lead to mandated breakups separating companies' dominant 
platforms from their other businesses. They could, for example, prevent Amazon 
from steering consumers to its own brands and away from competitors' products 
on its giant e-commerce platform.

   The drafting of that legislation marked a new turn in Congress' effort to 
curb the dominance of the tech giants and anti-competitive practices that 
critics say have hurt consumers, small businesses and innovation. But the 
proposal is complex and drew objections to some provisions from lawmakers of 
both parties, even though all condemn the tech giants' conduct.

   Lawmakers have faced a delicate task as they try to tighten reins around a 
powerful industry whose services, mostly free or nearly so, are popular with 
consumers and embedded into daily life.

   So with time to act running out as the November elections approach in about 
six weeks, lawmakers extracted the less controversial provisions on antitrust 
court venues and merger filing fees, putting them into the new bill that passed.

   Lawmakers added the provision targeting foreign subsidies to U.S. companies. 
Republicans especially have vocally criticized the Chinese ownership of popular 
video platform TikTok.

   In the Senate, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar is sponsoring similar 
legislation with Republicans Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah.

   "Effective antitrust enforcement is critical to ensuring consumers and small 
businesses have the opportunity to compete," Klobuchar said in a statement 
Thursday. "Enforcers cannot take on the biggest companies the world has ever 
known with duct tape and Band-Aids."

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