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Friday, April 23, 2021

Democrats revive call for pro-competition oversight of tech companies

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A Congressional Democratic caucus is rallying to try to free up the Internet, saying that Facebook, Amazon, and Google have grown too powerful, adding that they now wield too much “monopoly power.”

Democrats want companies to be required to take other forms of content delivery, such as traditional utility businesses, that would compete with the tech companies. These businesses could also host content in their own platforms and allow others to deliver their own products via them. In other words, the lawmakers are calling for investments to allow for competition in the technology space.

“Just as the U.S. innovated through utility regulations to fuel the 21st century economy, we must evolve market regulation to underpin it as well,” the letter reads. “Congress must take the next steps to create a regulatory regime that prioritizes competition and an open Internet in order to ensure the viability of our most innovative companies.”

Additionally, the Democrats are demanding that the three companies create a public report on data privacy — an issue that has bubbled up in Washington in recent weeks as the company is being probed by regulators and lawmakers.

Also Read: ‘It’s the Unseemly Wild West’: Google EMBARGOed in Washington for Back Taxes

The legislators were nearly all Democrats, but nearly all the Republicans present at the meeting of the House Internet Caucus on Friday voted to not bring the issue up for discussion, instead writing a counterproposal, which was praised by one aide as “timid.”

“The House Democrats’ unrealistic and ineffective proposal would be virtually useless and likely lead to nothing more than higher prices and fewer choices for Internet users,” said Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado and co-chair of the caucus. “Instead, I urge Chairman [Mark]up to begin the more important work of addressing real market failures in the marketplace, which the bipartisan efforts of the Internet Caucus are a step in the right direction.”

Democrats in Congress have come under growing scrutiny for allowing Google, Facebook, and Amazon to grow to their current dominance over the digital ecosystem. During his Democratic presidential run in 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders vowed to break up the three companies.

“Their concentration of wealth, power, and influence in Washington and Silicon Valley not only threatens the American economy, it also poses a real threat to American democracy and the American values that our founding fathers envisioned,” the legislators wrote Friday.

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In wake of Facebook revelations, Clinton tweets goodbye to Mark Zuckerberg: ‘Good luck’ “We’re not saying this is how things should happen, but we need to move past the current situation where we continue to give the market too little competition, leaving consumers with few options while the industry faces near-monopoly power,” added Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut.

The representatives had previously called for a legislative standard to require tech companies to disclose how they route traffic on their platforms and provide reasons for choosing which websites and apps to route traffic for.

Facebook has been the subject of several investigations into its handling of user data and whether it used algorithms to hide its data collection.

“While we think that these efforts to reform the market to solve these problems are important, we are not convinced that their proposals would go far enough,” Shawn Otto, a Republican representative, said in response to the Democrats’ Monday letter. “The proposed regulatory changes over the last year and a half to try to address the issue with regulation have been delayed repeatedly and, in many cases, have amounted to nothing more than a political stunt.”

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