Jun 6, 2022 - Technology

Antitrust bill's progress sparks tech lobbying splurge

Illustration of a mouse arrow split down the middle, with both halves pointing in opposite directions
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Big Tech is going all out against a key antitrust bill winding its way through the Senate towards a possible full-chamber vote.

The big picture: Passing restrictions on digital monopolies has never been closer, and spooked tech giants are spending big to stop them.

Driving the news: Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) want to get their bill, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, on the Senate floor this summer before time and momentum run out.

The bill would ban Big Tech companies from favoring their own services in an anticompetitive way.

  • For example, Apple would have to allow apps to use their own payment systems.
  • Amazon could not preference its in-house label products over third-party sellers'.
  • Google could not surface its reviews over others in search results.
  • The Senate bill is a companion to a similar House bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee as part of a marathon markup last summer.

By the numbers: Tech companies are shelling out millions per quarter on lobbying. Apple spent more on lobbying last quarter ($2.5 million) than in any previous quarter.

  • There are numerous ad campaigns against the legislation from groups like the Consumer Technology Association and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which spent $22 million on ads across more than 30 broadcast and cable markets in the week of May 27, according to advertising intelligence firm AdImpact.
  • CCIA's "Don't Break What Works" campaign, which warns about what the bill could do to consumers' cell phones and online services, has spent nearly $2.8 million on just Facebook and Instagram ads, per Meta's ad disclosure database.
  • Since the introduction of the bill, Big Tech has argued that everything from small business’ search results to Amazon Prime to a secure phone ecosystem could be in jeopardy.

State of play: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Klobuchar to revise the bill to accommodate feedback, as Axios previously reported, but her new version, released last week, prompted another round of criticism from companies and their lobbying groups.

  • Several senators on the Judiciary Committee, where the bill passed in January, said they would not support the bill in the full Senate without changes. These include Democratic Sens. Alex Padilla and Diane Feinstein of California and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).

Yes, but: Competition for Senate floor time is fierce.

  • Democratic leadership is focused on gun control, inflation, the war in Ukraine, the baby formula shortage, passing a China competition bill and trying to bring their major economic package back from the dead.

What they're saying: Some lawmakers say they are still worried about the bill's language. Others did not answer when asked whether they support the revised version.

  • “Senator Padilla is still reviewing the revised bill, but continues to have concerns, including with a provision he’s repeatedly raised that could undermine efforts to combat hate speech and disinformation — which remains unchanged," a spokesperson for Padilla said.
  • An aide to another senator on the Judiciary Committee told Axios: "The new draft seems to do little to address the main concerns that have been raised. It makes mostly technical changes and fails to address the more substantive issues."

The other side: "Any changes that were proposed that did not completely change the intention of the bill were properly considered, and a lot of them were incorporated in what we have," a Democratic aide close to the process told Axios.

What to watch: Schumer has told Klobuchar he will not put the bill on the Senate floor unless it can get 60 votes.

  • Grassley is confident the bill can do so, a Grassley aide told Axios, based on consulting with senators and a general Republican interest in reining in Big Tech.
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