These days it’s hard to find bipartisan support for almost anything — it seems even the color of the sky might be up for debate. That’s why it’s all the more impressive that Congress has reached broad bipartisan support for two antitrust reform bills targeting Big Tech.
There’s just one small surprise: Among support from other local leaders, Colorado’s two U.S. senators haven’t yet signed on.
Antitrust laws impact all Americans. Better known as competition laws, they are a series of economic regulations put in place to protect the free market — and therefore consumers — from predatory business practices. In this way, they are pro-business statutes set forth by the guiding principle that innovation and competition thrive best when there’s a fair playing field.
The two bills under consideration are the Open App Markets Act and the American Choice and Innovation Online Act. Both essentially serve to level the playing field in the digital space, a sort of modernization of existing brick and mortar antitrust laws.
For example, Amazon currently dominates the online marketplace and uses that marketplace monopoly to advance its product interests over other competitors. Under the new laws, Amazon would still be able to be an online marketplace, but it couldn’t use that marketplace to prioritize their products at the expense of others — that’s not fair competition.
America has a long history of tackling companies violating antitrust laws with positive market outcomes. In the early 1900s the Department of Justice launched a lawsuit against Standard Oil for using a monopoly of the oil industry to engage in unfair business practices to unreasonably undercut the competition. The outcome was multiple stronger competitive companies in the energy industry that still remain in some form today.
In the 1970s, the DOJ launched a similarly large antitrust violation lawsuit against American Telephone and Telegraph, one that ultimately led to the divestment of Bell System in the early 1980s. This allowed the innovations that we recognize as today’s internet and phone services and devices.
Now, a multi-year investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives antitrust subcommittee has revealed extensive anticompetitive practices exercised by Big Tech corporations. More specifically, there are four primary gatekeepers of concern in our digital world: Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google) and Meta (Facebook). In essence, by evading existing antitrust laws via the digital space, these companies have come to unfairly control our online experience.
Antitrust laws are often considered insider baseball, yet one look at the above company list should highlight how heavily impacted most Americans stand to be by the outcome of the two bills under consideration. Effectively anyone who is a consumer, user or producer of goods on any of these major tech platforms stands to be affected.
Unsurprisingly, Big Tech isn’t going without a fight. With reform looming, they have taken to flooding congressional offices with phone calls and cash, as well as targeted citizen commercials to sway public opinion against the proposed regulations. The added expense is a drop in the bucket for the revenue they hope to maintain — after all, these four tech companies brought in a combined $1.2 trillion in 2021 alone and won’t take losing their oversized market power lightly.
Although the most heavy lobbying of congresspersons is outside of Colorado, based on public campaign data obtained and analyzed by OpenSecrets.org, both U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper currently rank Big Tech — or venture capitalists that support them — as a top five contributing sector for the 2017 to 2022 fiscal years.
In other words, while others in the state, including Attorney General Phil Weiser, Rep. Joe Neguse and Rep. Ken Buck, have been exceptionally clear on their support for antitrust reform, the silence from Bennet and Hickenlooper is noticeable. This raises the question: Do they simply have too much to lose should they speak out against the schoolyard bullies, and if not, why aren’t they supporting fair free markets and small businesses?
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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