A bipartisan group of US lawmakers introduced a package of five bills this day aimed at reining in large tech companies’ most anti-competitive business practices. The suggestions were a long time coming. If passed, they’d restore Congress’s longstanding tradition of regularly upgrading the antitrust laws to address the worst competition-squashing business behaviour of the day–and they would provide regulators and prosecutors much more ammunition to go after tech giants.
Updating monopoly laws used to be a regular part of Congress’s project . After US lawmakers passed the landmark Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890, they tweaked the law 1914, 1936, and 1950 to keep up with all the new ways dominant businesses discovered to exploit their market power over recent years. Later 1950, however, antitrust laws went dormant. Lawmakers haven’t overhauled the principles in seven decades, which makes them woefully inadequate to restrain cutting-edge technology firms whose business models no mid-century legislator might have predicted.
In the absence of new legislation, American regulators and antitrust prosecutors have had to rely on the smallest common denominator of US anti-monopoly policy: the consumer welfare standard. Narrowly defined, this legal standard holds that company practices are just anti-competitive should they increase prices for customers. That has forced prosecutors to twist every litigation about competition-squashing behaviour into a convoluted debate about economic models and projections for consumer costs, which makes it very hard —and expensive–to win cases against big companies.
The five proposed bills would make things much easier, by clearly outlawing certain business practices. The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act would ban big tech companies from buying up smaller rivals. The Ending Platform Monopolies Act would bar tech firms from conducting a dominant marketplace and selling their particular competing goods and services on it. The ACCESS Act would force companies to let consumers take their data from 1 platform to ano