US House approves antitrust bill targeting Big Tech dominance

This image combination shows logos for Apple, Meta, Google and Amazon. The House, September 29, 2022. (AP Photo)

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 funds for federal regulators.

The bipartisan measure passed by 242 votes to 184. It was separated from more ambitious provisions aimed at curbing Meta, Google, Amazon and Apple and approved by key House and Senate committees. These proposals languished for months, giving companies time to launch vigorous lobbying campaigns against them.

The more limited bill would give states an advantage over corporations in choosing the location of courts that hear federal antitrust cases. Proponents say the change would avoid the “home court advantage” enjoyed by Big Tech companies in federal court in northern California, where many cases are tried and where many companies are based.

Numerous state attorneys general have filed antitrust lawsuits against the industry, and many states have joined the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission in their landmark lawsuits against Google and Meta (then called Facebook), respectively. end of 2020.

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

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

“We are in a moment of monopoly as a country,” Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., said before the vote. “Multibillion-dollar corporations have grown into giants, eliminating all real competition in their industries and using their dominance to harm small businesses and consumers. Meta’s monopoly power has allowed it to harm women, children, and women. people of all ages without recourse. Amazon has used its dominance to copy competitors’ products and direct small businesses to the ground.”

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

The legislation has drawn fierce opposition from conservative Republicans who have split from their GOP colleagues supporting the bill. Conservatives have opposed the proposed increase in revenue for antitrust regulators, arguing that the FTC has been excessively brazen under President Joe Biden.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, described FTC leader Lina Khan as “a radical leftist seeking to replace consumer decisions with her own.”

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

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

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

The drafting of this legislation marked a new turning point in congressional efforts to curb tech giant dominance and anti-competitive practices that critics say have hurt consumers, small businesses and innovation. But the proposal is complex and has drawn objections to some provisions from lawmakers on both sides, even as all condemn the conduct of the tech giants.

Lawmakers have faced a tricky task as they try to tighten the reins around a powerful industry whose mostly free or nearly free services are popular with consumers and integrated into everyday life.

So, as the time for action runs out with the November election looming in about six weeks, lawmakers have extracted the least controversial provisions on antitrust courts and merger filing fees, inserting them into the new bill that has been passed.

Lawmakers added the provision targeting foreign subsidies to U.S. companies. Republicans in particular have been highly critical of 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 essential to ensure consumers and small businesses have the opportunity to compete,” Klobuchar said in a statement Thursday. “The Enforcers can’t take on the biggest corporations the world has ever seen with duct tape and band-aids.”

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