House lawmakers roll out bills to rein in Big Tech as conservatives warn of too much federal control
Companies would have regulations imposed on mergers, data, and certain business practices
House lawmakers on Friday introduced a slew of antitrust bills they say aim to rein in the power and reach of Big Tech companies, but some conservatives are warning that the legislation would give the federal government too much control over the tech sector, while others are concerned the proposals would adversely effect the broader economy and U.S. competitiveness.
The bills, which have some bipartisan support, including from Republican Reps. Ken Buck, Madison Cawthorne, Burgess Owens, Victoria Sparks, Matt Gaetz and Chip Roy, take aim at top tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. The bills, though, do not address Twitter.
"Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy. They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers and put folks out of work," Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee told the Wall Street Journal Friday. "Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us."
U.S. antitrust laws haven’t been updated significantly in almost 100 years, according to Buck's office.
In general, the bills would seek to have the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission assign "covered platforms" to include companies with at least 500,000 users in the U.S. and with $600 billion in revenue. Once designated, those companies considered "covered platforms" would have regulations imposed on mergers, data and general company practices.
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The proposals would make it easier to break up companies that monopolize the market and would give regulators more power.
One bill would allow the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission to sue to break up platforms. The legislation takes aim at companies like Amazon that operate a dominant platform and promote their own goods or services on it. It aims to break up Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple’s monopoly power.
Another focuses on data portability and interoperability, and would require online platforms to create interfaces to let users easily move their data to other services.
The next piece of legislation would prohibit many of the tech giants from "self-preferencing" or favoring their own products. The legislation takes aim at conduct by Apple related to its App Store and Amazon with respect to its marketplace.
Another bill filed Friday would increase the filing fees paid to the antitrust agencies for merger reviews. The bill is a companion bill to one that passed in the Senate with bipartisan support. Sources familiar with the legislation said that the bill would not make taxpayers responsible for the increase, but rather the Big Tech companies. The bill would also make it more affordable for small and medium-sized companies with respect to filing fees. Sources said the funds go toward the DOJ Antitrust Division and FTC for increased scrutiny on Big Tech giants.
A fifth piece of legislation focuses on mergers and beefs up the FTC and Justice Department's ability to police start-up acquisitions. Under the legislation, the platform would be required to show "clear and convincing evidence" in court that the potential rival doesn’t compete with it or pose a competitive threat.
Also introduced Friday was a bill that would give state attorneys general the ability to choose their venue for court, which a source familiar with the legislation told Fox News would "empower" state attorneys general who have brought cases against Big Tech companies.
Fox News obtained draft version of all five proposals.
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Rep. Ken Buck, R-Col., during an interview with Fox News on Friday, said this legislation is imperative for the evolving U.S. economy.
"We need these bills because the economy has changed," Buck said. "We’ve never dealt with digital platforms in the way we are now. As the economy changes, Congress needs to exercise its Article I authority to update the laws and keep them current.
"It is essential that we unshackle small business and give consumers more choice and thats what these bills do," Buck said, adding that the legislation is the result of months-long bipartisan investigations and negotiations.
Some conservatives, though, criticized the legislation, saying it doesn't do anything to address their concerns of censorship of conservative content on the platforms -- a sentiment Buck disagreed with.
"These bills address how companies treat consumers on the speech side – if we have five Facebooks, you’ll get a conservative Facebook out there and people won't feel like their voices have been censored or discriminated against."
He added: "It is only because these platforms have a monopoly that they can censor conservatives, and kick people like President Trump off."
Buck, though, said that Democrats are less concerned about censorship and more concerned about "the size of platforms, their economic power, and how the owners of these platforms have become oligarchs in America."
"I'm concerned about the platforms primarily because of the effects of small business and consumer choice and censorship," Buck said, adding, though, that while Republicans and Democrats "see the world differently, on this, we've come to agree."
But a House Republican aide criticized the legislation, saying that while conservatives are looking to "rein in Big Tech," they "don’t think we should do it with a hammer and sickle."
"Conservatives will never get a fair shake on the internet if they become beholden to the federal bureaucracy," the aide told Fox News.
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Some Republican aides, though, are concerned that members of their caucus’ "animosity toward tech will be coopted by Democrats’ desires to hurt the capitalist system."
"While these bills might hurt tech, they also will mean tech will become more ‘woke’ as it's beholden to liberal bureaucrats, academics and advocates," the aide said.
"Anything conservatives are going to do to Big Tech should be done with the utmost care and precision," another Republican aide told Fox News. "These bills take a progressive sledgehammer to one of the biggest sectors of our economies."
A GOP leadership aide also criticized the legislation.
"Big Tech censors conservatives and silences views not rubber-stamped by the Washington elite," the leadership aide told Fox News. "Giving Washington bureaucrats in the Biden Administration this kind of immense power will not fix Big Tech’s problems."
The conservatives on Capitol Hill concerned with the legislation told Fox News that the bills do not address the issues with Big Tech companies that Republicans have been sounding the alarm on for months, such as Section 230 — a rule that shields social media companies from being held liable for content on their platforms while allowing them to moderate that content — or ways to affect tech companies’ abilities to "censor conservatives."
Another Republican likened the legislation to E.U. regulatory standards, saying the bills are "the Europeanization of the American economy."
"Some of these proposals are not consistent with principles of capitalism, but more consistent with central and eastern EU command and control government models, rather than free market principles," another Republican source told Fox News.
Buck disagreed, saying the bills "are a reflection of the really longstanding conservative views on these market monopolies."
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But former Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Division at the Justice Department Makan Delrahim, who led wide-ranging antitrust investigations of Big Tech companies and whether their online platforms had hurt competition, suppressed innovation or otherwise harmed consumers, said antitrust laws need reform one way or another.
"There is no question that the antitrust agencies need additional resources and some of the laws need updating," Delrahim told Fox News. "As Congress considers reforms, I would caution that we study the impact of the legislation to ensure it doesn’t have unintended consequences of discouraging innovation and investment."
The Justice Department, the FTC, and state attorneys general across the country have filed antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook, while Amazon and Apple fight other antitrust charges and investigations.
Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment on the legislation.