Nov 24, 2020 - Technology

Members of Congress finding agreement on a tech antitrust agenda

Illustration of the scales of justice with one side full of a pile of cursors and one side with the Capitol Dome.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

House Democrats and Republicans are finding common ground on a set of principles for countering tech monopolies that they believe could drive a bipartisan push in the new Congress to update antitrust law.

The big picture: Representatives from both parties are finding it easier to agree on antitrust policy ideas than on proposals about content moderation and liability, where the two parties couldn't be further apart despite agreeing on the need for change.

Democrats and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, which issued a sweeping report this year proposing steps to rein in big tech firms, have zeroed in on at least four ideas, according to a Hill source:

  1. More funding for key antitrust enforcers, chiefly the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, so they can take on wealthy, heavily lawyered tech companies.
  2. Changing the burden of proof for proposed mergers so that companies whose market share passes a certain threshold are assumed to be monopolies and must prove their deal does not harm competition.
  3. Data portability requirements for platforms, so that consumers can move their information from one service to another.
  4. Prohibitions on platform bias and "self-preferencing," which is when information services display their own listings above those of competitors.

Background: The committee's 450-page October report outlined dozens of legislative fixes and enforcement ideas to shore up current antitrust law.

The committee majority report's recommendation of "structural separations" prohibiting platform owners from also participating in the markets they run is going to be a harder sell for Republicans.

  • There's little agreement on that issue, Rep. David Cicilline, the Democrat who heads up the antitrust subpanel, told Axios.
  • And any bill on "self-preferencing" would be a lengthy project, he said, requiring technical drafting and additional bipartisan support.

The intrigue: President-elect Biden's win adds to the chances antitrust legislation will be successful next year, Cicilline said: "He's dedicated his entire life to checking big corporate power and recognizes the importance of competition.... There is real alignment between the subcommittee and the administration."

Between the lines: Rep. Ken Buck — a Colorado Republican on the committee who released his own antitrust report and has worked across the aisle on this issue — is likely to run for ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, one Hill source said, elevating his role going forward.

What's next: Key lawmakers and sources familiar with the committee's work say staffers aim to produce bills that can be introduced early next year.

Go deeper:

Go deeper