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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Federal Trade Commission this week kicks off the first broad examination of competition in the technology industry in more than two decades — a sign that the tech giants could be in for stronger public oversight.

Why it matters: The FTC's public hearings, which start Thursday, will provide the first structured conversation about realistic policy tools that federal regulators need to police the internet economy.

The Big Tech backlash has been driven by critics and issue-specific outrage. Over the course of several public hearings this fall, the FTC is taking the first steps toward crafting a basic framework to keep the tech companies from acting like monopolies.

The debate over the past year has focused on using antitrust measures to, for example, clamp down on the treasure troves of data controlled by Google, Facebook and Amazon — and to prevent them from getting any bigger with new acquisitions.

  • But antitrust law can only go so far in curbing anticompetitive behavior. And under the current administration — and an increasingly conservative Supreme Court — a broader reading of today's antitrust rules is highly unlikely.
  • By looking at realistic regulatory tools, the hearings will set the stage for how strictly the FTC will enforce its existing rules in the near future, and whether it will ask Congress for new authority.

Joe Simons, the relatively new FTC chairman, is seizing on the chance to say "let's take a deep breath, listen to some valid points, and have a constructive conversation," said a former FTC attorney. But the discussions run the risk of becoming politically charged in the current environment.

  • A common concern has been that the FTC and other agencies aren't equipped to deal with the unique internet economy. The FTC is likely to say it needs more resources to stay on top of the issues.
  • A study of how consumer data impacts competition, price and behavior is another possible outcome, sources say. The FTC's subpoena power allows it to gather confidential information about data use.
  • A year ago, calls for a sector-specific regulator to oversee the internet ecosystem seemed far-fetched. After data scandals and election interference, it's now beginning to look like a more reasonable idea.
  • Another topic may be updating vertical merger guidelines, which the Justice Department last updated in the 1980s.

The backstory: The last time the FTC held a series of public hearings on an issue was in 1995, when then-chairman Robert Pitofsky convened experts to discuss competition in still-nascent areas such as "marketing in cyberspace" and "interactive television." Those hearings culminated in a series of reports that recommended ways for the FTC to promote competition.

The bottom line: The ambition of this fall's hearings are to "chart a course forward in the same way," said a former FTC staffer. "I think they have the potential to set the agency on a path for the next decade."

Go deeper

Updated 7 mins ago - Sports

Big European soccer teams announce breakaway league

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) after striking the ball during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match between Liverpool F.C. and Real Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, England, last Wednesday. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

12 of world soccer's biggest and richest clubs announced Sunday they've formed a breakaway European "Super League" — with clubs Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona Real Madrid, Juventus and A.C. Milan among those to sign up.

Why it matters: The prime ministers of the U.K. and Italy are among those to express concern at the move — which marks a massive overhaul of the sport's structure and finances, and it effectively ends the decades-old UEFA Champions League's run as the top tournament for European soccer.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Democrats settling on 25% corporate tax rate

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The universe of Democratic senators concerned about raising the corporate tax rate to 28% is broader than Sen. Joe Manchin, and the rate will likely land at 25%, parties close to the discussion tell Axios.

Why it matters: While increasing the rate from 21% to 25% would raise about $600 billion over 15 years, it would leave President Biden well short of paying for his proposed $2.25 trillion, eight-year infrastructure package.

GOP pivot: Big business to small dollars

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Republican leaders turned to grassroots supporters and raked in sizable donations after corporations cut them off post-Jan. 6.

Why it matters: If those companies hoped to push the GOP toward the center, they may have done just the opposite by turning Republican lawmakers toward their most committed — and ideologically driven — supporters.