Capping a nearly 16-month probe into the market power of four big tech companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — House Democratic lawmakers issued the findings from their report and called for an overhaul of U.S. antitrust laws to rein in their “monopoly” status.
“The totality of the evidence produced during this investigation demonstrates the pressing need for legislative action and reform,” the report from the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic leadership said. “These firms have too much power, and that power must be reined in and subject to appropriate oversight and enforcement.”
The committee’s investigation, launched in June 2019, gathered nearly 1.3 million documents and included seven hearings to “review the effects of market power online.” That included a nearly six-hour hearing with the CEOs of the companies: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Alphabet/Google’s Sundar Pichai.
“To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons,” the report says. “Although these firms have delivered clear benefits to society, the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google has come at a price.”
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Republican representatives, while they agreed with some of the committee’s conclusions, have balked at some of the more radical recommendations such as imposing structural separations on the tech giants.
The report indicates that if Democrats make meaningful gains in the November elections, that “could change the antitrust political wild card,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives wrote in a research note.
A “potential ‘blue wave’ in November would change the game on this front and make a formidable force going after antitrust law changes with breakups possibly on the radar,” Ives wrote. “For now this is a contained risk, but ultimately this could morph into a threat for Big Tech.”
In the 449-page report, the House Democrats, led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee, said each company operates a platform that “now serves as a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution. By controlling access to markets, these giants can pick winners and losers throughout our economy. They not only wield tremendous power, but they also abuse it by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them.”
The recommendations from Democratic staff include:
- Imposing structural separations and prohibiting dominant platforms from entering adjacent lines of business
- Instructing antitrust agencies to presume mergers by dominant platforms to be anticompetitive, shifting the burden onto the merging parties to prove their deal would not harm competition, rather than making enforcers prove it would.
- Preventing dominant platforms from preferencing their own services, instead making them offer “equal terms for equal products and services.”
- Requiring dominant firms to make their services compatible with competitors and allow users to transfer their data.
- Overriding “problematic precedents” in antitrust case law.
- Requiring the Federal Trade Commission to regularly collect data on concentration.
- Increase budgets for the FTC and Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
- Strengthen private enforcement by eliminating forced arbitration clauses and limits on class action lawsuits.
Pictured above: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying remotely at the House Antitrust Subcommittee’s July 29 hearing