- The hearing includes breaking up the tech giant companies Google and Facebook
- Klobuchar will offer a virtual talk on antitrust reform on Friday.
On Thursday, house judiciary committee lawmakers conducted a hearing that included some of the prominent players in antitrust enforcement today. Two federal trade commission leaders and two state attorney generals recently slapped a lawsuit against Facebook for violation of antitrust law and testified before the committee.
While lawmakers have been speaking extensively about breaking up giant tech companies like Facebook and Google, the law enforcement agencies have the real power to unwind the tech mergers. This happens with dwindling budgets and meager resources which makes it more difficult to do this. On Thursday, Congress members indicated that they want to help them bring more lawsuits against BigTech.
What does this imply?
In previous hearing sessions, the committee chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and other members made sweeping statements regarding setting new rules of the road for tech companies. This is done to increase competition in the market. But on Thursday, it became clear that helping and forcing people to do their jobs is Congress’s first point of focus when it comes to the establishment of reforms.
At the top of this hearing, Cicilline asked the witnesses about how congress could aid with the modernization of merger enforcement and encourage agencies like the DOJ and FTC to take up more cases. “Today’s hearing is an opportunity to take additional steps… by identifying reforms to develop and clarify the antitrust laws to confront America’s monopoly problem,” Cicilline said in his opening remarks Thursday.
This is something that Republicans are eager to take on as well. Ranking Member Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) said on Thursday that he agrees and is in support of “increasing rigorous enforcement” of antitrust law and “reforming the burden of proof for big tech mergers involving a monopoly platform”. This will make it easier for law enforcement to bring lawsuits against tech companies that violate the laws frequently.
But FTC Acting Chair Democrat Rebecca Slaughter told lawmakers that their work and contribution should not end there. “I firmly believe that effective enforcement is a compliment, not an alternative, to thoughtful regulation,” she said.
During Thursday’s hearing, I spoke with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) about Congress’s priorities as far as the antitrust reforms are concerned. I asked Klobuchar if Congress should prioritize helping and forces and provide them with more resources when it comes to antitrust reform.
“That’s something you can do while making the case for the changes to the law,” Klobuchar said. “I was so close to getting that done at the end of the year.”
Klobuchar touted her antitrust package with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) called the “Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act.” Such a bill would provide law enforcement with increased access to resources to take competitive cases to court mirroring much of what the House Judiciary Committee discussed on Thursday. Klobuchar is also going to offer a virtual talk on antitrust reform on Friday with EU Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager. I asked Klobuchar what lessens the US could take from the EU’s competition efforts in the tech domain.
“They have gone about this in a way where they’re seriously looking at competition policy,” Klobuchar said. “They’re calling it competition policy, and they’ve been aggressive about it, going up to these gateway companies. I think that’s the overall thing that one can learn. Let’s face it, US policy has been sleepy. For years, it was kind of close your eyes to what’s happening with things like [Facebook’s] purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram.”
With all of the House’s hearings come to an end it means that we could start to see the legislation introduced shortly. Earlier this month, Klobuchar told CNN’s Brian Fung that she plans to hold a series of competition hearings in the Senate as well looking into the tech’s dominance which includes App Store fees and Facebook and Google’s dominance on the advertising market. These hearings have not been scheduled yet.