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US lawmakers Goal Big Tech’s May with wide-ranging antitrust agenda

Andrew Hoyle/CNET U.S. lawmakers unveiled a wide-ranging antitrust agenda on Friday, aiming to rein in the competitive power of giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The five bipartisan bills, the result of more than a year investigating competition in the digital marketplace, target what lawmakers call the “unregulated power wielded” by Big Tech. The bills…

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

U.S. lawmakers introduced a wide-ranging antitrust agenda on Friday, aiming to rein in the competitive power of giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The five bipartisan accounts, the end result of more than a year investigating competition in the electronic market, goal exactly what lawmakers call the”unregulated power wielded” by Big Tech. 

The bills are aimed at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, which jointly influence almost every aspect of online life. If finally passed into law, the bills would make it much easier for the government to break up dominant companies and prevent them from snuffing out contest through preemptive acquisitions.

Rep. David N. Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, said the record of bills would”level the playing field” and ensure tech firms were held to the same principles

“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” Cicilline said in a press release. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work.”

Facebook and Google declined to comment. Apple and Amazon did not respond to messages seeking comment. 

The enormous market power of these companies, which jointly represent more than $6 trillion in market value, has confounded the fundamental principles that guided antitrust legislation at the US for a generation. Lawmakers have become increasingly worried by the industry’s behavior and threatened to address it. Last July, the chief executives of the four firms were hauled in front of Cicilline’s committee for a grueling six-hour hearing, an unprecedented public interrogation of Big Tech’s most visible leaders.  

Silicon Valley’s supporters argue scale of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google has provided customers with unprecedented innovation and sweeping technological advantages, often at lower price. Critics of Big Tech counter the industry’s extraordinary market power damage employees, suppress smaller competitors and cost consumers in ways other than money. 

The invoices in Friday’s legislative schedule, according to lawmakers, would:

  • Prohibit discrimination by dominant platforms — such as Apple’s App Store, the Google Play Store or all of Amazon’s marketplace — preventing them from exercising self-preference or”picking winners and losers online.”
  • Forbid acquisitions made to squelch competitive threats, or the ones that would enlarge or entrench the market power of internet platforms. 
  • Restrain dominant platforms from leveraging their control across several business types to give themselves unfair advantage and disadvantage competitors.
  • Promote more internet competition by lowering barriers to entry and decreasing the costs to businesses and consumers when they want to change to a new provider. 
  • Update filing fees for mergers, the initial increase in two years, providing funds for both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to pursue necessary antitrust action.

The bills escalate a fight that has been brewing between Silicon Valley and Washington for years. 

All four of the tech giants face major antitrust conflicts. Google is the target of three important antitrust lawsuits, such as a landmark case filed by the US Department of Justice, also another criticism by a bipartisan coalition of nations. Facebook faces lawsuits against the Federal Trade Commission and a group of state attorneys general. Amazon has been sued by the attorney of Washington, DC, for price fixing. Apple and Google are sued by the manufacturer of the popular sport Fortnite due to their app store policies.

Cicilline has headed the charge at the House. Last July’s hearing the culmination of a more-than-yearlong investigation by his subcommittee to the market dominance of the technology giants. During this time, the subcommittee gathered more than 1.3 million documents from the technology companies, their opponents and antitrust enforcement agencies. Following the hearing, the subcommittee released a 449-page report accusing the four businesses of”abuses of monopoly power.”

The sizes of the companies are staggering.

Facebook is the world’s biggest social network, with a user base approximately equal to the planet’s two most populous nations — China and India — combined. Amazon controls 38percent of US online revenue , while Walmart, its closest competitor, has just shy of 6%. (Amazon also collects data on other retailers with its giant platform.) Apple’s App Store is a powerful gateway for software developers to find an audience with the organization’s enormous iPhone and iPad customer base. Google procedures about 90% of all internet searches globally. 

The legislative program is a”huge step” toward holding dominant tech companies accountable for abuses of the unchecked power, Robert Weissman, the president of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said. “Big Tech should see this for what it is: Congress sending a clear message that the party is finally over for them,” he said in a statement. 

Smaller opponents lauded the move too. 

Roku, which is currently at a standoff with Google over a bargain to keep hosting the YouTube TV program on its streaming apparatus, called the invoices that a  crucial step to curbing predatory behavior. “Roku has firsthand experience competing against and interacting with these monopolists,” the company said in a statement. “We’ve seen how they flagrantly ignore antitrust laws and harm consumers by leveraging their dominance in one line of business to stifle competition in another.” 

Spotify, which has been a vocal critic of Apple’s activities in its App Store, called the proposals a”clear sign that momentum has shifted” following”anticompetitive practices have gone unchecked for too long, stifling competition and threatening innovation.”

But some that support and represent the tech sector warned that the invoices could hurt U.S. economic leadership in the world and hamper customers access to free electronic services. 

“The House bills would put the government in charge of industrial organization,” Matthew Schruers, the president of tech trade group Computer & Communications Industry Association, said in a statement. “They disregard the principles that have governed the U.S. market economy and would stop successful tech companies from providing consumers with the products and services that improve their lives.”

–Richard Nieva given to this article. 

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