House lawmakers who spent the last 15 months investigating the practices of the world’s largest technology companies said on Tuesday that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google had exercised and abused their monopoly power and called for the most sweeping set of changes to antitrust laws in half a century.
In a 449-page report that was presented by the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic leadership, lawmakers said the four companies had turned from “scrappy” startups into “the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.” The lawmakers said the companies had abused their dominant positions, setting and often dictating prices and rules for commerce, search, advertising, social networking and publishing.
To amend the inequities, the lawmakers recommended restoring competition by restructuring many of the companies, emboldening the agencies that police market concentration and throwing up hurdles for the companies to acquire startups. They also proposed changing antitrust laws, in the biggest potential shift since the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act of 1976 created stronger reviews of big mergers.
“The totality of the evidence produced during this investigation demonstrates the pressing need for legislative action and reform,” the report said. “These firms have too much power, and that power must be reined in and subject to appropriate oversight and enforcement.”
The House report is the most significant government effort to check the world’s largest tech companies since the government sued Microsoft for antitrust violations in the 1990s. It offers lawmakers a deeply researched road map for turning criticism of Silicon Valley’s influence into concrete actions.
The report is also expected to kick off other actions against the tech giants. The Justice Department has been working to file an antitrust complaint against Google, followed by separate suits against the internet search giant from state attorneys general. Antitrust investigations of Amazon, Apple and Facebook are also underway at the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and four dozen state attorneys general.
But the House antitrust subcommittee split along party lines on how to remedy and corral the power of the tech companies, pointing to an uphill battle for Congress to curtail them.
Democrats proposed legal changes that could substantially restructure Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. They said Congress should consider making it illegal for the tech giants to provide preferential treatment to their own products, as Google does in search results, or to compete directly with other companies that use their platforms, as Amazon does in its marketplace.
Some Republicans agreed with proposals to bolster funding for antitrust enforcement agencies, but balked at calls for Congress to intervene in restructuring the businesses and their business models. Others have refused to endorse any of the Democrats' findings.
“I agree with about 330 pages of the majority’s report,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. But he said he could not agree with recommendations to embolden consumer lawsuits and the breakup of companies, calling them “the nuclear option.”
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