Lawmakers, Taking Aim at Big Tech, Push Sweeping Overhaul of Antitrust

Lawmakers, Taking Aim at Big Tech, Push Sweeping Overhaul of Antitrust

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Friday introduced sweeping antitrust legislation aimed at restraining the power of Big Tech and staving off corporate consolidation across the economy, in what would be the most ambitious update to monopoly laws in decades.

The bills — five in total — take direct aim at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google and their grip on online commerce, information and entertainment. The proposals would make it easier to break up businesses that use their dominance in one area to get a stronghold in another, would create new hurdles for acquisitions of nascent rivals, and would empower regulators with more funds to police companies.

“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,” said Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the antitrust subcommittee. “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.”

The introduction of the bills, which have some bipartisan support, represents the most aggressive challenge yet from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley’s tech giants, which have thrived for years without regulation or much restraint on the expansion of their business. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have a combined market capitalization of $6.3 trillion, four times more than the value of the country’s 10 largest banks.

Over the past decade, dozens of bills for data privacy, speech liability, and children’s online safety have failed. But efforts to curb the dominance of the biggest tech companies have gained broad support in recent years. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission during the Trump administration accused Google and Facebook of anticompetitive practices and filed lawsuits that are expected to be fought for years. Democrats and Republicans point to the dominance of a handful of firms as a root cause for the spread of disinformation, inequality in labor and wages, and haphazard rules for speech across the internet.

The tech giants face similar challenges to their power across the globe, facing multiple antitrust investigations of Facebook, Amazon and Google in Europe and new legislation in Australia and India to curb the power of the American giants.

“These are just the type of new laws we need to really address the problem of gatekeeper power by dominant digital platforms,” said Charlotte Slaiman, the competition director for Public Knowledge, a public interest group. “Big tech firms have so many powerful tools to protect their monopolies. These bills would give antitrust enforcers a few more powerful tools to open up digital platform markets for competition.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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