Congressional Leadership Realizing That 'Big Tech' Antitrust Bills Aren't Ready For Prime Time

from the back-to-the-drawing-board dept

As you've now heard, there's a big push in Congress to revise how antitrust works. A group of mostly Democratic House members (with a few Republicans on board) introduced a questionable package of antitrust bills, with many, many problems. There were some good ideas (such as better funding of the FTC) and some more creative ideas (such as around interoperability), but done in such ham-fisted ways that they would cause a lot more harm than good. We've noted how the bills would create massive problems for content moderation, and raise related speech issues.

Last week's marathon markup hearing in the House Judiciary Committee did not ease these concerns -- if anything they made them much, much worse. After the hearing was finally over, a bi-partisan group of Judiciary Committee members put out a statement highlighting the half-baked nature of the proposals.

“The marathon markup – that started Wednesday morning, recessed as the sun came up on Thursday morning, and then reconvened for another four hours on Thursday – featured several bills that would radically change America’s leading tech companies and made crystal clear that the bill text as debated is not close to ready for Floor consideration.

“The package of legislation poses harm to American consumers and the U.S. economy and left Members on both sides of the aisle with basic questions that have yet to be answered. What companies are covered in the scope of the bills? If only four, why? Why are foreign firms not covered? Were the definitions of ‘covered platforms’ arbitrary or not? How would the bills impact useful products that consumers rely on? How do the bills protect the data of American consumers? How do the bills protect consumers from arbitrary tech company abuses, as well as safeguard the nation’s security and economic interests?

“The 16-month-long investigation conducted by the Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee rightfully scrutinized digital markets in an effort to remove barriers to competition. Unfortunately, the resulting legislative proposals – which the full Committee did not hold a hearing on or have reasonable time to fully consider – fell short of adequately addressing identified problems in an effective way that serves Americans’ interests. We urge the sponsors of the bills to take the necessary time, commit to a comprehensive approach, and work with their bipartisan colleagues of this Committee to address the concerns articulated during markup to further develop these bills.”

Of course, given how nearly all of those concerns were brushed aside by Committee members who support the bills, my fear was that this process was on an unstoppable train track. People had asked Rep. Jerry Nadler to slow things down before the hearing and he had refused. However, it appears that more soberly minded members of the leadership are now realizing that maybe this rush job is a mistake.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is now pumping the brakes on moving these antitrust bills to a full floor vote.

“There was disagreement among the Democrats in the committee and not every Democrat voted for it, and some very senior members opposed it,” Hoyer said of the House Judiciary’s consideration of the legislation last week. “There’s a lot of discussion to be had before I get to scheduling bills for the floor.”

What this really means is that someone has taken the temperature of the other members and realized there aren't enough votes to pass these bills. That doesn't mean they won't be back (or that this process won't just jump over to the Senate for now). It's entirely possible that updated versions of the bills will be even worse. But, for now, at least, it appears that Congress is taking at least a temporary breather on rushing through these bills.

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Filed Under: antitrust, big tech, congress, david cicilline, steny hoyer

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  1. identicon
    Anon, 30 Jun 2021 @ 10:58am


    The problems as described in the article are very interesting.
    Does the bill(s) target specific companies? As seen over and over in the tech world, things can change 180 degrees overnight. Facebook seems to already be turning old and uncool. Tik-tok took over in a flash (or without flash). Any of the target companies, if hamstrung by legislation, would find its position usurped.

    How does the bill address foreign competition? Congress can try any law it wants, but if the company is operating outside the USA, laws will have no effect. Does the USA want to mandate a Great Wall and block certain websites? Certain apps?

    Imposing content moderation rules on certain websites basically means that accepting user comments is not economically feasible - unless the website have no presence in the USA. Would the law actually force bad psosts off the web, or just move all posting to a non-USA site?

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