In recent years, small tech companies – including app companies – have mounted a campaign for Congress to enact antitrust legislation to specifically deal with the market behavior of tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. A chief complaint of small tech companies has been that these “Big Tech” platforms favor their own products and disadvantage small competitors.
In the last Congress, there were numerous hearings on Big Tech and competition issues, as well as a major report delivered by the majority staff of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law about the online market power and behavior of large online tech companies. This was the most significant spotlight Congress had placed on tech and antitrust policy since congressional hearings on Microsoft’s business more than 20 years ago. In a major development in this Congress, antitrust legislation was approved by both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to specifically address the large online platforms’ business practices.
Despite the progress, there has been no floor action in Congress on substantive antitrust tech legislation except for the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act, which recently passed the Senate. It would allow state attorneys general to determine where antitrust cases brought by them will be heard rather than companies seeking to move the cases to a company-friendly venue.
With each day bringing us closer to the midterm elections, moving major tech antitrust legislation forward becomes more challenging – but is still possible.
Here are four things you need to know about policymakers’ engagement on Big Tech competition issues.
There is bipartisan support for Big Tech antitrust legislation.
Not all Democrats support the Big Tech bills approved by the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.
On the Senate side, the lead Democrat sponsor of the AICOA Sen. Klobuchar is pushing for a vote this month, and sponsors of the Open Apps Market Act also want their bill to get to the Senate floor. Proponents and opponents of these bills are engaged in vigorous advocacy given the potential for a vote. Bill sponsors have recently revised AICOA to address some concerns and there are calls for additional changes from several Senate Democrats that may give some supportive Republican Senators pause. A key factor for Senate Democratic leadership in deciding whether to schedule this vote will be where vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection in November stand on the bill. Proponents of the bill cite polls that voters generally support regulating the tech companies, but Senators with tough races could view this as a vote they would rather not take this close to the election. Even veteran Senators will take all variables into consideration when they are in cycle. The definition of a win applies to both Democrats and Republicans as they navigate turbulent political waters. For each member, that answer might vary.
Focus on Big Tech will continue in the next Congress.
Dealing with Big Tech will remain an administration priority
Claudia James is Cogent’s go-to strategist on issues pertaining to technology, telecommunications, media and intellectual property. She has a strong reach to Senate Democrats as well as Democrats on the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees and has played a leading role in passing two Freedom of Information Act reform bills and achieving clients’ legislative objectives in eight major mergers. For Claudia’s complete bio, click here.