Congress Warns Big Tech: “Change Is Coming. Laws Are Coming”

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law held the first in a planned series of hearings to “consider legislative proposals to address the rise and abuse of market power online and to modernize the antitrust laws,” reported Bloomberg.

“This problem is a cancer that is metastasizing across our economy and our country,” Rep. David Cicilline (Democrat – Rhode Island), chairman of the subcommittee, said in an opening statement. “Mark my words: Change is coming. Laws are coming.”

Ranking member Ken Buck (Republican – Colorado) said bipartisan regulation is possible for funding for antitrust regulators, as well as reforming the burden of proof in merger cases.

The hearing follows the findings of the panel’s 16-month investigation of tech companies released last year. The report determined that Alphabet’s Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have all abused their gatekeeper power over the digital economy.

The committee’s report recommended a series of far-reaching antitrust reforms, including a measure that would prohibit a dominant tech platform from operating in competition with the firms dependent on it — much the way banking laws once barred large lenders from acquiring insurers, real estate firms, and other non-banking companies. The committee also recommended restrictions on acquisitions by dominant firms.

Hal Singer, an antitrust economist, told lawmakers there is an “urgent need” to reform competition laws. “Recent developments imply that certain platforms have accumulated so much economic and political power that they may not be governable, which militates in favor of cutting them down in size,” he said.

Democrats are looking to capitalize on control of Congress to pass antitrust reform in response to evidence that industries across the US economy have grown more concentrated, with many markets suffering from signs of declining competition. Competition policy is increasingly seen as a mechanism to combat economic woes such as income inequality and stagnant wages.

In the Senate, Democrats led by Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced legislation earlier this month that would clamp down on mergers by making it easier for antitrust enforcers to stop deals.

Antitrust reform has Republican support. Representative Ken Buck, the ranking member of the antitrust panel, said tech companies “are able to act with complete impunity because of their status as monopolies.”