Former Federal Trade Commission chairman says Biden urges agency inappropriately
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2022 — Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee have formed a tenuous bipartisan alliance to curb allegedly anti-competitive behavior by big tech companies.
In a Thursday markup, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-6 to send the US Online Innovation and Choice Act, S. 2992, to the Senate. The bill would prohibit certain companies with online platforms from engaging in discriminatory behavior towards their competitors.
There is a long list of violations and illegal behavior listed in the bill, including unfair preference for products, limiting another company’s ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.
This bill would only apply to companies with online platforms that meet one of the following criteria:
- Has at least 50,000,000 monthly active US-based users on the online platform or 100,000 monthly active US-based business users on the online platform
- is owned or controlled by a person with net annual United States sales or market capitalization greater than $550,000,000,000, adjusted for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index and is a essential business partner for the sale or supply of any product or service offered on or directly linked to the online platform
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the bill’s sponsor, called the bipartisan effort “the 11 co-sponsors of the ocean,” featuring a diverse lineup of lawmakers, from the senator. Josh Haley, R-Miss. and Sen. John KennedyR-La., to the senator. Dick DurbanD-Ill., and Sen. Richard BlumenthalD-Conn.
Senators adopt specific and direct targeting of Big Tech
Klobuchar spoke directly about the need to target large companies: “We have to look at it differently than starting in a garage – it’s not what they are anymore. They may have started small, but they are [now] dominant platforms,” she said. “For the first time, monopoly power is going to be challenged in a way that I consider smart.”
At the start of the meeting, there were more than 100 amendments proposed by committee members, but by its conclusion, more than 80 of them had been withdrawn.
One of the amendments that made its way into the bill was a markup that exempted subscription services from complying with the legislation, allowing services like Amazon Prime and Netflix to promote their own content above others. .
“The bill strikes the right balance between preventing behavior that harms competition, while ensuring that platforms can continue to provide privacy and data security features to their users, compete against competitors in the United States and abroad and maintain services that benefit consumers,” Klobuchar said.
A fragile alliance between book Republicans and progressive Democrats
Although there were big names on both sides of the aisle backing the bill, the alliance seemed strained. Although he supports the bill, Kennedy has made it clear that his support is conditional. “I’m a co-sponsor of this bill, but this bill is going to change — it’s going to change dramatically,” he said. “I hope to be in the room when these changes are made, otherwise I will be leaving this bill faster than you can say ‘Big Tech’.”
Some of Kennedy’s criticisms point to Section 230 issues raised by the former president donald trump — calling some of the targeted companies “killing fields for the truth” and stating that “their censorship is a threat to the First Amendment.”
Despite his criticisms, Kennedy echoed other senators, both Republicans and Democrats, who stressed that they did not want the perfect to become the enemy of the good. “Everything we’ve done [for five years] strut around, issue press releases, hold hearings and do nothing. So that’s a start.
Klobuchar was also pushed back by members of her own party, along with Sen. Diane FeinsteinD-California, saying she was critical of the bill because it’s designed to specifically target big tech companies, many of which are California-based (though she ultimately voted to push the bill forward in the Senate) .
Hawley pushed back against Feinstein in his comments, saying he supports the bill for the same reason Feinstein refuses. “[Feinstein] pointed out – I think rightly – that this bill is very specific and targets specific behavior – anti-competitive behavior – in a specific set of markets. I think it’s a virtue and not a vice.
The measure must be passed by the entire Senate, as well as the House, before being sent to the President for his signature.