Congress opens up the latest tech antitrust front

The House Judiciary Committee will begin a bipartisan investigation into competition in digital markets, it announced.

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For the first time ever, a congressional committee announced Monday, Congress will investigate competition in digital markets. The new probe, to be conducted by the Antitrust Subcommittee within the House Judiciary Committee, is the latest front to open up in the tech antitrust battles brewing in Washington. It has support from both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee. 

"The growth of monopoly power across our economy is one of the most pressing economic and political challenges we face today. Market power in digital markets presents a whole new set of dangers," Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said in a statement. "After four decades of weak antitrust enforcement and judicial hostility to antitrust cases, it is vital for Congress to step in to determine whether existing laws are adequate to tackle abusive conduct by platform gatekeepers or if we need new legislation." 

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Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, added, "As tech has expanded its market share, more and more questions have arisen about whether the market remains competitive."

The Antitrust Subcommittee will conduct a "top-to-bottom review" of the market power held by giant tech platforms, the Judiciary Committee said in a release, with a focus on three main areas: documenting competition problems in digital markets; examining whether dominant firms are engaging in anti-competitive conduct; and assessing whether existing antitrust laws, competition policies, and current enforcement levels are adequate to address these issues.

Leaders from Silicon Valley have repeatedly appeared on Capitol Hill over the past year to testify on specific issues including online election tampering and supposed political censorship on tech platforms. This new probe will give the congressional panel the power to compel industry leaders to testify at depositions related to antitrust questions and to request relevant documents.

The new probe comes amid reports that the US Justice Department (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are gearing up to open their own antitrust investigations into Google, Amazon, Apple Facebook. The FTC and DOJ have reportedly divvied up oversight responsibilities, with the DOJ taking jurisdiction over matters related to Google and Apple while the FTC handles Amazon and Facebook.

Meanwhile, back in February, the FTC announced the formation of a new taskforce to monitor the US tech industry and markets for online advertising, social networking, mobile operating systems and apps, and platform businesses.

Scrutiny of Big Tech has entered presidential politics as well. In March, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren outlined a plan to reverse Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods, as well as Facebook's purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram. These companies, Warren has argued, have too much influence over the economy, society, and politics, while stifling competition, innovation and small businesses.

On the other side of the aisle,  President Donald Trump has taken swipes at major tech firms, including Google and Amazon. 

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