US tech giants Apple Inc. and Amazon.com may be forced to sell or close shop if a broad antitrust legislation passes congressional muster.
On Friday, House Democrats and Republicans introduced a series of bills that establishes more stringent rules on how tech giants operate. The five bills would also give antitrust authorities more ‘teeth’ to take on the country’s wealthiest and most influential businesses.
Ending the tech monopoly
Lawmakers have lamented the extraordinary power of unbridled tech companies on the national economy. According to Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island (D), such antitrust bills aim to level the playing field and ensure that the dominant companies in tech “play by the same rules.”
Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado expressed that the bills would encourage innovation and allow small businesses a fair chance.
The new proposals, combined with previous bills introduced in the Senate, would become the most significant reform in US competition law since the 19th century when the first antitrust laws were passed. Legislators are keen on limiting the top tech firms in abusing their hold on digital markets and stifle competition.
Surprisingly, the five antitrust bills earned bipartisan support and are expected to temper behaviors of tech companies, including stricter merger reviews, regulating the products and services they offer, and scrutinizing their treatment of businesses reliant on their platforms.
The “Ending Platform Monopolies Act,” one of the five House bills, makes it illegal for tech platforms to acquire a business that competes with the same service or product on a similar platform. What does this mean?
For instance, Amazon would be barred from selling its own brands and services, such as Amazon Basics; Apple canno longer sell Apple Music. Google would be stopped from offering bespoke search services in shopping, travel, or local businesses.
Following the bills’ release, the Nasdaq 100 Index, where tech titans dominate, shaved gains and lagged behind the Nasdaq Composite Index.
Senate still to reciprocate
The US Senate has yet to put parallel efforts with the House in passing a sweeping antitrust bill. At present, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota’s proposal has no Republican backer.
Bipartisan antitrust efforts in the Senate only relate to increasing the filing fees for merger reviews and beefing up funding for antitrust enforcement.
If the House antitrust legislative package passes, it could seriously hurt Google’s $23 million ad business. Google brokers ad transactions and offers technology for advertisers and website publishers to buy and sell digital ads. However, it also competes as a buyer and seller in the marketplace.
Unsurprisingly, antitrust lobbyists praised the legislative package, particularly in reviving competition in the digital markets.
Technology trade groups have lambasted the bills, alleging that it threatens innovation and upends consumer choice. Groups such as the Computer & Communications Industry Association called for more hearings on the proposed antitrust law.
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce registered its opposition to the House bills, saying that they are nothing but “targeted attacks” on particular companies.