A coalition of lawmakers and advocacy groups is making its last push to pass antitrust legislation targeting big tech platforms before the end of the year. But in the rush to rein in Big Tech, many conservatives signed a bill that would do little to address their underlying concerns. Rather than help Democrats pass flawed legislation, Republicans in Congress should wait until next year, when they will likely be able to push forward their own proposals.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), part of a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, recently held a press conference to urge Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) to pass the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) on the ground. AICOA, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support in January, is designed to prohibit Big Tech companies from engaging in a range of activities that privilege their own products and services over those of their own. third. Klobuchar released a revised version of the bill in May that aims to address lingering concerns about the scope and ambiguity of the legislation.
“As dominant digital platforms – some of the biggest companies our world has ever seen – increasingly prioritize their own products and services, we need to put policies in place to ensure that small businesses and entrepreneurs always have the opportunity to succeed in the digital marketplace,” Klobuchar argued. To do this, the bill grants the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Justice (DOJ), and state attorneys general new authority to impose heavy fines on covered platforms that prefer their own products and services.
Ultimately, the bill empowers the FTC and DOJ to interpret the AICOA, and those agencies will have every interest in pushing for the broadest possible reading. Given that penalties can reach 10% of total US revenue, companies will also take an extremely cautious approach to navigating the law’s ambiguity, preferring to shut down services that many consumers rely on.
Although the AICOA enjoys bipartisan support, it also has bipartisan opposition, particularly around the ambiguity to whom it would apply. Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) raised concerns about the bill, while Democratic Senators such as Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) and Michael Bennet (D -Colo.) would have expressed serious reservations behind closed doors. As Senator Lee said during the January markup, “I think it would lead to countless unintended and unintended consequences, like harming many of the same consumers we’re trying to protect.”
While Republicans have a tougher view of Big Tech than Democrats, their underlying grievances are different. While criticism of Big Tech on the left tends to focus on economic concentration, social justice, and harmful content, the right is primarily concerned with free speech and censorship. As Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) – the original Republican co-sponsor of AICOA – recently proclaimed in the Senate, “Big tech silences everyone it disagrees with. … We must prevent these companies from arbitrarily deciding what speech is acceptable to the country.While separate legislation attempts to address these concerns, the AICOA does little for conservative political purposes other than to punish its perceived political adversaries.
Much has been said about the supposed urgency to pass this bill in the coming months, but that only holds if one supports the approach of the current majority. The underlying animosity toward Big Tech is unlikely to have receded by the time the 118th Congress kicks in, likely under new leadership, at least in the House of Representatives. Given that AICOA fails to address Republicans’ underlying concerns about Big Tech, Senate Republicans should consider whether it’s wise to back Klobuchar and Schumer’s plans to rush the bill through. of law.
Instead of following the Democrats’ agenda, Republican lawmakers interested in reining in Big Tech should focus on refining their own ideas. For example, Lee’s TEAM (Tougher Enforcement Against Monopolists) Act might serve as a better starting point for lawmakers looking to hold Big Tech accountable. This bill would codify and expand on existing antitrust law to clarify enforcement power over free online services. This legislative vehicle could also be used to address issues of privacy and freedom of expression.
The desire to extract a pound of flesh from Big Tech is no reason to pass unhealthy legislation that could backfire when consumers lose access to beloved products and services. If conservative lawmakers are serious about tackling the issues they care about most — like privacy, harm to children, and free speech — they’d better run the AICOA’s time as if it was about Merrick Garland, and pivoting to get their own ideas ready for 2023.
Luke Hogg is policy manager at Lincoln Network.