Scathing congressional report suggests big trouble for Big Tech if Biden wins

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A scathing report detailing abuses of market power by four top technology companies suggests a tough road ahead of new rules and stricter enforcement for Big Tech should Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden win the White House.

Antitrust experts and congressional aides said the 449-page report from the antitrust panel of the House Judiciary Committee, released on Tuesday, lays out a road map for the Democratic Party to put the brakes on the dominance of Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc, Inc and Facebook Inc.

With the Nov. 3 election approaching fast and a new Congress scheduled to be sworn in in January, action on the report’s recommendations this year is unlikely and no new legislative changes are imminent. However, the findings boost the chances for new laws in the future and will inform existing investigations against large technology companies by state attorneys general and agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

The report reflects the views of Democrats on the antitrust subcommittee in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Republicans on the panel released two separate reports on the investigation.

U.S. Representative David Cicilline, chairman of the House antitrust panel, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday he thinks a Biden administration would be receptive to the report. “He (Biden) has talked about how Big Tech platforms abuse their power,” said Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat. “He recognizes that this sort of economic concentration undermines democracy.”

Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, a Washington-based group focused on monopoly power, said the report “lays out the Democratic Party’s position on tech platforms and how antitrust laws need to be refined and strengthened.”

“The report has done a lot of work to set up where and why a Biden administration should act and how it should prioritize the recommendations in the report,” she added. Miller is one of hundreds of members of the Biden campaign’s tech policy committee.

William Kovacic, a former chair of the Federal Trade Commission, warned that the companies will “pull out all the stops” in lobbying against the changes.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported how large tech companies including Amazon were cozying up to the Biden campaign with cash and connections.

Biden has previously said antitrust enforcement has not been strong and that tech firms deserve a hard look from the federal agencies that oversee competition. He has stayed away from calling for the breakup of large technology companies, saying it would be premature to do so without a formal investigation.

The House report on Tuesday broadly recommended that companies should not both control and compete in related businesses, but stopped short of naming a specific company. Anti-monopoly experts and congressional aides said the report, which details Big Tech’s abuses, has the potential to influence the thinking of Biden on the issue.

A spokesman for the Biden campaign did not immediately comment.

The antitrust panel will take up the majority report after the October recess for formal adoption and will have a vote on it, counsels for the committee said. The next step will be coming up with legislation to put the report’s recommendations into action.

House panel chairman Cicilline also said in the interview he expects legislation tackling Big Tech’s market power to be introduced in the current Congress and more bills to be introduced next year.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Matthew Lewis)