Important draft legislation often gets overlooked during the height of campaign season. While everyone is focused on hot-button issues — the economy, abortion, immigration — a bill in the U.S. Senate is slowly working its way to passage, and I’m concerned that it hasn’t yet been fully vetted.
Known as the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act,” the bill targets big tech companies by making it unlawful for them to give preference to their own products and services on their own platforms. Think about that. Apple, for example, could not preload Maps or FaceTime on its phones; users would have to buy those functions separately from an app store.
As both a small business owner who uses these apps on a regular basis, and as the mayor of a very diverse suburban city, I am concerned about the trickle-down costs of this legislation on small businesses and on the people who use these applications day in and day out. Businesses who rely on advertising and Maps, students who utilize the search functions for research, families who use technology to stay in touch with each other over many miles, would, if this bill passes as is, have to incur additional expenses to pay for those services.
I understand that there is a need to regulate the big tech companies, particularly in the area of content moderation, unfairly prohibiting competitors from use of their platforms, and privacy of data. This bill would be beneficial if it significantly focused on those issues, rather than the competitively disadvantaging language that is prevalent throughout.
I’ve read the bill and, unfortunately, cannot find any language that focuses on benefits to the consumers and users of these platforms. It simply offers no benefits whatsoever to the people who live in, or own businesses, in my community. In fact, it’s very likely to increase costs to these households and businesses at a time when they are already struggling.
There are many examples of how the bill, as written, will cost families and businesses, particularly small businesses, more money. Here’s one: Many small businesses use Amazon to sell their products and take advantage of the distribution services and free shipping to customers offered through Amazon Prime. This would no longer be allowed because Amazon would be prohibited from “preferencing” its own merchants over those affiliated with competitors. Many small businesses in my community have survived because they can market products, at low or no expense, through platforms like Amazon and Etsy.
The proposed legislation targets large platforms — those with more than a certain number of users. If the bill passes, it is highly likely that the large companies will simply splinter off into smaller ones in order to avoid the onerous regulation. The cost of doing so will, of course, be passed on to us, the consumer, and will do nothing to address the content issues or protection-of-data issues. The bill only targets U.S. companies. Foreign companies will not be affected.
It seems as if the bill is being hustled through Congress in order for some elected officials to be able to say that they “held big tech feet to the fire.” As far as I can tell, there has been little to no discussion with the small business community or with municipal, county and state elected officials — those of us closest to the people. These discussions undoubtedly would lead to potential amendments that surely would result in better outcomes.
I am a strong supporter of creating some type of oversight for an industry that has grown rapidly. But let’s focus on safety and security of the platforms, increasing competition by guaranteeing access to the platforms by smaller competitors, and protection of data.
I urge our U.S. senators, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, to slow the bill down until it is properly vetted for potential impact on families and businesses here in Colorado.
Adam Paul, of Lakewood, is mayor of Lakewood.
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