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Antitrust

Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Vows to Hold Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Other Tech Executives to Account

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Screenshot of Rep. David Cicilline from the webinar

May 7, 2020 — Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., head of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, said Thursday that he will not lessen the intensity of his investigation into anticompetitive practices potentially committed by big tech.

Cicilline expressed concern about a post-recession landscape in which big tech companies “gobble up” all competitive opportunities.

“We have seen this movie before,” Cicilline said, referencing airline and banking industry consolidation in the years following the Great Recession.

Speaking on a Politico webinar, the congressman also drew parallels with current roadblocks in providing COVID-19 related healthcare, such as consolidation and infighting in the ventilator manufacturing industry.

Investors are out there “licking their chops” and being told that “there are great opportunities out there,” Cicilline said.

Cicilline also honed in on Amazon and its alleged anticompetitive practices, saying that he had received signals of “complete cooperation” from the heads of Facebook, Apple and Google but that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressed hesitation about coming to testify before the subcommittee.

Cicilline said it is “hard to imagine” that he completes his investigation without hearing from the CEOs of each major tech company.

The business practices of Amazon are “central to this investigation,” Cicilline said. “It is our hope and desire that [Bezos] comes voluntarily, though we are prepared to use compulsive processes.”

“No one is above the law,” he added.

Cicilline originally planned to have his investigation and report concluded by the end of March, but quarantine-induced obstacles pushed back the projected end date to the end of spring.

While he expressed hopes of introducing antitrust legislation before the end of the year, Cicilline admitted that its prompt passage remained an “open question.”

In light of the challenges caused by the coronavirus quarantine, Cicilline said he has explored possibilities ranging from remote hearings to meetings in physical chambers large enough to respect social distancing regulations.

“I do think we’re going to have to figure that out at some point to have actual hearings,” the congressman said.

Cicilline also isn’t bowing to pressure that he grant big tech some leeway on account of their contributions to the coronavirus pandemic, as catalogued in a Broadband Breakfast report.

“I think it’s terrific when comps behave that way,” he said, “[but] they’re two different issues.”

Even though many of the services offered by big tech are free, consumers pay for these services with “your eyeballs, your attention, your data,” Cicilline said, adding that he hoped that Joe Biden would be more aggressive in pursuing antitrust if elected.

David Jelke was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. He graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in neuroscience. Growing up in Miami, he learned to speak Spanish during a study abroad semester in Peru. He is now teaching himself French on his iPhone.

Antitrust

‘Time is Now’ for Separate Big Tech Regulatory Agency, Public Interest Group Says

‘We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late.’

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Photo of Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Public Knowledge, non-profit public interest group, further advocated Thursday support for the Digital Platform Commission Act introduced in the Senate in May that would create a new federal agency designed to regulate digital platforms on an ongoing basis.

“We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

The DPCA, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO., and Representative Peter Welch, D-VT., would, if adopted, create a new federal agency designed to “provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”

The independent body would conduct hearings, research and investigations all while promoting competition and establishing rules with appropriate penalties.

Public Knowledge primarily focuses on competition in the digital marketplace. It champions for open internet and has openly advocated for antitrust legislation that would limit Big Tech action in favor of fair competition in the digital marketspace.

Feld published a book in 2019 titled, “The Case for the Digital Platform Act: Breakups, Starfish Problems and Tech Regulation.” In it, Feld explains the need for a separate government agency to regulate digital platforms.

Digital regulation is new but has rapidly become critical to the economy, continued Feld. As such, it is necessary for the government to create a completely new agency in order to provide the proper oversight.

In the past, Congress empowered independent bodies with effective tools and expert teams when it lacked expertise to oversee complex sectors of the economy but there is no such body for digital platforms, said Feld.

“The reality is that [Congress] can’t keep up,” said Welch. This comes at a time when antitrust action continues to pile up in Congress, sparking debate across all sides of the issue.

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Antitrust

FTC Commissioner Concerned About Antitrust Impact on Already Rising Consumer Prices

Noah Phillips said Tuesday he wants the commission to think about the impact of antitrust rules on rising prices.

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Screenshot of Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2022 – Rising inflation should be a primary concern for the Federal Trade Commission when considering antitrust regulations on Big Tech, said Commissioner Noah Phillips Tuesday.

When considering laws, “the important thing is what impact it has on the consumer,” said Phillips. “We need to continue to guard like a hawk against conduct and against laws that have the effect of raising prices for consumers.”

Current record highs in the inflation rate, which means money is becoming less valuable as products become more expensive, has meant Washington must become sensitive to further price increases that could come out of such antitrust legislation, the commissioner said.

Phillips did not comment on how such movies would mean higher prices, but that signals, such as theHouse Judiciary Committee’s antitrust report two years ago, that reign in Big Tech companies and bring back enforcement of laws could mean higher prices. He raised concerns that recent policies are prohibiting competition rather than facilitating it.

This follows recent concerns that the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, currently awaiting Senate floor consideration, will inhibit America’s global competitiveness by weakening major American companies, thus impairing the American economy. That legislation would prohibit platform owners from giving preference to their products against third-party products.

This act is one of many currently under consideration at Congress, including Ending Platform Monopolies Act and Platform Competition and Opportunity Act.

Small businesses have worried that by enacting some legislation targeting Big Tech, they would be impacted because they rely on such platforms for success.

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Antitrust

Critics and Supporters Trade Views on American Innovation and Choice Online Act

American Innovation and Choice Online Act is intended to protect fair competition among businesses, but panelists differed on its impact.

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Photo of Amy Klobuchar from August 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – Experts differed on the effect that antitrust legislation targeting big tech companies allegedly engaging in discriminatory behavior would have on small businesses.

Small businesses “want Congress not to do anything that will screw up or weaken the services that they rely on for their business,” said Michael Petricone, senior vice present of the Consumer Technology Association, at a Protocol Live event on Thursday.

Petricone said that antitrust bill would encourage tech companies to relocate to other countries, harming the American economy. He said small businesses would be affected the most.

Instead, Petricone called for  a “smarter immigration policy” to allow foreign innovators access to American tech market, as well as the defeat of the antitrust legislation.

But other said that small businesses suffer from predatory behavior by big tech companies. “Companies can’t get their foot in the door when there is already self-preferencing,” said Awesta Sarkash, representative for Small Business Majority, an advocacy organization, adding that 80% of small businesses say they want antitrust laws to protect them.

Self-preferencing on online platforms is detrimental to the success of small businesses who rely on social media advertising for business, she said. The new antitrust proposals would ensure an level playing field and promote fair competition, she said.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would prohibit certain online platforms from unfairly preferencing products, limiting another business’ ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, was introduced to the Senate on May 2 and is awaiting Senate floor consideration.

The debate follows concerns raised by both democrats and republicans about America’s global competitiveness as the bill would weaken major American companies.

If passed, the bill will follow the European Union’s Digital Services Act which similarly sets accountability standards for online platforms, preventing potentially harmful content and behavior.

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