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Antitrust leader says Congress will need people’s help to rein in powerful Big Tech companies

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) believes antitrust regulation of Big Tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google will be tough, and in order to implement meaningful reforms that strengthen the power of Big Tech companies, Congress will need help from it American people. Cicilline is chair of the antitrust congressional subcommittee and spoke Sunday as part of a Yale University School of Law conference on antitrust ahead of the expected release of what Cicilline calls the Congress’ most comprehensive antitrust reform in more than 50 years. Identifying anti-competitive behavior from large companies is quite simple, he said, but the challenge is to develop solutions and gather the necessary political support for the reform.

“We have to fight companies that have a huge stake in maintaining the status quo, which has been hugely profitable for them, and this will be a big battle,”

; he said. “We need the support of the American people. As we move forward with this legislation, it will only happen if we can rally the country around it, because we are fighting strong economic forces and powerful companies that are likely to oppose what we are trying to do, and get American people on our side to Understanding that it means something in their daily lives is going to be very critical. “

Cicilline said it was important for the American people to understand that the rise of Big Tech companies has resulted in a decline in innovation, increased costs for consumers, less choice for consumers, a deterioration in quality, a decline in reliable news sources and a decline. . in the labor force. He has also called the power of Big Tech companies a threat to democracy.

In June 2019, the Antitrust Subcommittee, part of the House Judicial Committee, launched an investigation into the impact of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google on digital markets. The report is expected to be published in the coming days. In total, Cicilline said the subcommittee held 7 hearings, collected 1.3 million internal documents and communications, and heard from dozens of witnesses and experts. He said the subcommittee’s report would give Congress “a menu of options” for how to reform the antitrust law in the coming months and years.

A police ministry investigation into Google is also expected this week, according to Politico.

Ahead of the release of the congressional report, in a conversation with Yale economics professor Fiona Scott Morton on Sunday, Cicillne spoke about the type of antitrust solutions he believes are politically feasible and effective. On the list: Data portability, the adoption of the kind of power separation that prevents a platform owner from favoring their own products over others, and gives federal agencies enforcing antitrust laws such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the resources they need for more robust enforcement.

In response to steel and railway companies at the end of 19th century and subsequent monopoly, federal agencies such as the FTC or the Department of Justice gained a reputation for bringing antitrust cases against monopolies. Notable examples in technology include IBM in the 1970s and Microsoft in the 1990s. In recent decades, there have been few examples of major antitrust enforcement actions by the authorities in any industry. One of the last major cases finally came when the Ministry of Justice settled with Microsoft in 2001. Ironically, experts who testified before the congress said that a reduction in Microsoft’s anti-competitive behavior then enabled the increase of Amazon, Facebook and Google.

Cicilline also believes the modernization of antitrust statutes to respond to a series of “very bad court decisions” is also in order.

“We [Congress] come to determine competition policy, and the court has on its own made decisions that are incompatible with the intent of Congress, and we must correct it; it is up to us to do, ”he said.

The Antitrust subcommittee held its last hearing last week, and among the topics discussed were court decisions that made it successively more difficult to block a merger. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp as well as Google’s acquisition of AdMob and DoubleClick were recurring topics of discussion through Congressional antitrust investigations. During the hearing, Cicilline suggested that Congress need to pass legislation to address a court overreaction, while Representative Ken Buck called for greater resources for the Department of Justice and the FTC. He added that the burden of proof that a merger is not anti-competitive should be shifted from regulators to companies, a solution that came up in previous testimony to the subcommittee.

During the lengthy investigation, Cicilline said, evidence of congressional shortcomings was also found. He said it was clear that the antitrust law, much of it dating back to the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, needed reform, but that it was also clear that a congressional mandate to ensure that agencies enforcing the antitrust law also fell short.

“Resources mean money, but it also means being adequately managed by people who are sufficiently enthusiastic and creative to use all the tools available to provide robust monopoly enforcement,” he said.

Political pollsters predict that Democrats will win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and a potential majority in the Senate in the November 3 general election. If Congress wins both the House of Representatives and the presidency, it could have major implications for technology policy.

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