Updated May 12, 2022 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on tech's antitrust debates

On Thursday, May 12th in Washington, D.C., Axios tech policy reporter Ashley Gold and managing editor for politics Margaret Talev led conversations with policymakers unpacking proposed antitrust legislation in Congress and the debates around its potential impact on the tech industry. Guests included Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips.

Rep. Eric Swalwell conveyed his view that the current legislation under consideration creates a national security problem, fails to address the privacy concerns that are top of mind for many Americans and raises concerns about remaining competitive with China.

  • On the proposed antitrust legislation: “My fear, though, is that many of these reforms would throw the baby out with the bathwater, which I don’t want to do. California’s tech economy, America’s tech economy, is the baby that I want to protect.”
  • On privacy concerns as a priority for Americans: “I think the concerns that Americans have with the internet, with software, are around their own privacy, how their data is being used. I think California addressed this with our California privacy laws, with how algorithms are leading to harmful outcomes, how disinformation is changing election landscapes. And this legislation does nothing to address that.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal explained her position, saying that this legislation is about ensuring small businesses can thrive. She also responded to arguments that antitrust bills would hurt national security and assessed the current political environment for this legislation to pass or fail.

  • On the biggest hurdle to getting antitrust bills passed: “In the House, the biggest hurdle is the enormous amounts of money that these tech companies put in. The lobbying is enormous, and if you look at how much money these companies are spending to lobby individual lawmakers, to put ads on TV, it is enormous.”
  • On the argument that antitrust would hurt national security: “We have a whole list of national security experts who have said that the thing that hurts national security the most is for us to not be able to innovate, for us to not have the competition that pushes the right kinds of innovation forward. And, I would say, our national security is really affected when consumers have no choices, when small businesses can’t thrive.”

FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips expressed his belief that there has been a focus from the administration on anti-merger policy rather than antitrust policy. He also said that Congress is going after certain tech companies rather than regulating harmful conduct and that legislation in general should address a clear problem.

  • On mergers & acquisitions: “I think today what we have, the real novelty thus far in the Biden administration with respect to antitrust, is instead of having antitrust policy, we have anti-merger policy. We have a series of policies that we’ve adopted that are intended to slow generally M&A activity, to tax M&A, and they have a disparate impact. They sort of hurt smaller companies and smaller deals more than the big ones.”
  • On targeting specific companies through antitrust legislation: “What Congress has said is it’s not that we think this conduct is generally bad, so it’s okay if a retailer does it. But for these five companies, we’re going to have special rules, we’re going to weaken these companies…I think it’s a wonky approach to legislation.”

Thank you TechNet for sponsoring this event.

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