Politico

House panel greenlights early tech antitrust bills as marathon session grinds on


The House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation late Wednesday to make it easier for consumers to move their personal data from one digital service to another, in the panel’s third vote of the day meant to limit the power of tech giants.

The committee then moved on to one of its most sweeping proposals: a bill, H.R. 3826 (117), that would prohibit the largest tech companies from squelching competition by acquiring their potential rivals. Yet another bill, H.R. 3825 (117), would allow the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission to sue to break up the biggest tech companies that offer their goods and services on platforms they operate.

The panel’s marathon markup showed no signs of flagging as the clock ticked past midnight Eastern time.

The tally: The panel favorably referred the data bill, H.R. 3849 (117), with a bipartisan 25-19 vote after 11 p.m. ET, with three California Democrats breaking ranks and opposing the measure — Reps. Lou Correa, Zoe Lofgren and Eric Swalwell. Three Republicans supported the bill.

The debate over the measure, which began before 4 p.m., dragged deep into the night as the bill’s detractors on both sides of the aisle introduced a bevy of amendments to pare back the proposal, most of which were unsuccessful.

The text: The data legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), would require major platforms to create interfaces that allow users to transfer their data among online services — a step that could help other companies compete with the likes of Facebook. A bipartisan group of senators introduced companion legislation in the last Congress, S. 2658 (116).

“Too often, the segments of the digital economy that are dominated by the largest platforms are closed off to competition,” Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said during the markup. “These markets often have high barriers to entry, switching costs, and other characteristics that lock-in consumers and businesses to using one company in that industry.”

The politics: The push to boost so-called data interoperability has drawn backing from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and tech industry leaders. But ahead of the markup, tech companies including Apple voiced concern about the specific bill under consideration, which narrowly targets dominant platforms.

Lofgren said she had “substantial concerns” that the legislation could create vulnerabilities that expose user data.

“Unfortunately, given the speedy nature of this process and both the legal and technical complexities of these challenges, it’s not been possible to fix this concern prior to today,” she said, adding that she hopes to work with Scanlon and others to address those issues.

The measure also survived objections from Republicans, including the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who argued it would give too much leeway to regulators at the Federal Trade Commission to set up rules to govern the transfer of data among services.

The changes: The bill advanced with an amendment offered by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) aimed at addressing Jordan’s concerns. It would create a reporting requirement for the technical committee that would advise the FTC on interoperability rules.

By voice vote, the panel also adopted an amendment to change the definition for the companies covered under the bill from “mobile online platforms” to simply “online platforms.” That could widen its reach, possibly making it easier to apply the provisions to Microsoft.

The proposal’s proponents narrowly sidestepped a potentially damaging snag by beating back an attempt to dramatically broaden the number of companies covered under the bill. Lofgren proposed an amendment lowering the market capitalization threshold for the covered companies from $600 billion to $250 billion, but the change was defeated in an 18-25 vote where numerous lawmakers crossed party lines.

Other action: The committee had voted earlier Wednesday to increase merger filing fees, H.R. 3843 (117), and to allow state attorneys general to pick where antitrust cases are heard, H.R. 3460 (117).

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