Tech antitrust bills pass House Judiciary Committee – The Washington Post

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Source : The Washington Post

Big Tech antitrust bills pass first major hurdle in House even as opposition grows
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In a marathon markup meeting that lasted 29 hours, the House Judiciary Committee approved all six of the bills in a sweeping antitrust package that takes aim at Big Tech and attempts to reel in the giants’ power.

But the lengthy debate that began Wednesday and did not finish till Thursday afternoon illuminated the fissures within both parties as tech companies continue lobbying lawmakers, and some California delegates — whose districts encompass many tech headquarters — voiced skepticism.

The committee advanced the sixth bill — the one with perhaps the broadest implications for tech giants — Thursday afternoon in a tight 21 to 20 vote. Two Republicans joined those voting to advance the bill, while four Democrats were opposed.

The bills, which have some bipartisan support, target the far-reaching power of Big Tech, especially Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. The committee spent the first several hours of the hearing debating the two least controversial bills — a measure that would update merger filing fees, and another that deals with venues for antitrust suits brought by state attorneys general.

The bills with more substantial changes passed throughout the night, including a bill to prevent tech giants from buying rising competitors; one to prohibit big tech companies from giving their own products and services preference over those from competitors; and another to make it easier to use products from different tech companies together.

The last bill, passed Thursday afternoon, would enable federal regulators to sue to break up large tech companies when their role as operator of a platform presents an “irreconcilable conflict of interest” in their other lines of business. That could spell trouble especially for Amazon — which operates a major e-commerce marketplace where it also competes as a seller of its own goods — and potentially for Google — which ranks videos in its search engine while also running its own major video service, YouTube. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Big Tech is making a full-court press in lobbying lawmakers to defeat the bills, according to reporting in Gizmodo and the New York Times. The push is made clear in public calls from industry trade organizations and the companies themselves.

The package has the support of Judiciary antitrust subcommittee chairman David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who led an exhaustive House investigation into big tech companies last year that preceded the bills.

“Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are gatekeepers to the online economy,” Cicilline said early in the committee markup Wednesday. “They bury or buy rivals and abuse their monopoly powers — conduct that is harmful to consumers, competition, innovation and our democracy.” He is supported by a number of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, though the parties are not consistent in their support.

California representatives from both parties, including Zoe Lofgren (D), Darrell Issa (R), Eric Swalwell (D), Tom McClintock (R) and Lou Correa (D), opposed elements of the package. “The package poses harm to American consumers and the U.S. economy and left Members on both sides of the aisle with basic questions that have yet to be answered,” they wrote in a joint statement after the vote.

“In my district, small businesses depend on services provided by these tech companies,” Correa added in a statement. “Amazon has opened a distribution center and is looking to open a few more. These are good-paying jobs with benefits.”

Democrats Lofgren, Correa, Swalwell and Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) opposed advancing the final bill. Two Republicans, Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) voted to move the bill forward.

Jane Chung of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Public Citizen, which supports the antitrust package, said she was “disappointed” by the opposition of the California Democrats, which she attributed in part to the influence of the tech giants in their districts. “This is the result of over a decade of relationship-building, campaign contributions, the lobbying revolving door,” she said.

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