House lawmakers introduce five bipartisan bills to avert tech monopolies

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On Friday, House Democrats introduced five new bills designed to take power from major tech companies, targeting a variety of practices that antitrust lawyers say are stifling competition.

These measures are the House Judiciary Committee’s historic 16-month investigation into the business tactics of companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. With this new set of bills, Congress is preparing to legislate based on the concerns raised by that investigation — and the move could reshape the tech industry as we know it.

“Right now, unregulated technology monopolies have too much power over our economy. They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices for consumers and put people out of work,” Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) said in a statement Friday. “Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure that the richest, most powerful tech monopolies play the same rules as the rest of us.”

The package unveiled Friday contains five measures targeting the different ways tech companies maintain market dominance. One bill would allow the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission to split up tech companies by forcing them to sell parts of their businesses that could create a conflict of interest — potentially forcing Amazon to divest off private label brands like Amazon Basics.

Another bill would prohibit companies from prioritizing their own services over their rivals, such as Google boosting its own products in search results over competitors. Yet another bill would prevent companies like Facebook from buying up emerging competitors, such as with the Instagram acquisition in 2012.

The last two bills are less controversial. Last week, the Senate already passed a measure by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would increase the cost of filing mergers for large companies, giving antitrust enforcement officers more money to tackle cases. A bill was introduced on Wednesday reflecting that legislation. The latest bill would force platforms to make the data they collect interoperable to make it easier for users to jump from one service to another. Both Republicans and Democrats seem eager to make progress with data portability legislation.

The House technical investigation was a two-pronged undertaking, and while both sides agree on many of the probe’s findings, they disagree on some solutions. The investigation culminated in a more than 400-page Democratic staff report detailing the findings. Rep. Ken Buck (CO), the committee’s top Republican, released his own report focusing on the ways major platforms reportedly censored conservative expressions and encouraged other Republicans to support competition reform as a means of addressing the issue.

It’s unclear how Democrats plan to move forward with the legislation, but the multi-pronged approach could make it easier to make some changes in the near future. More measured approaches like Klobuchar’s to boost regulatory funding could find broad support in the House.

At least one Republican and one Democrat signed each of Friday’s measures. Still, it is unclear whether all members support each bill. On Thursday, axios reported that lobbyists from Rupert Murdoch’s media companies, such as Fox Corp. and News Corp., urged House Republicans to support the measures.

“These companies have maintained monopoly power in the online market by using a variety of anticompetitive behaviors to stifle competition,” Buck said in a statement Friday. “Doing nothing is not an option, we must act now.”