Congress Reveals Plans to Break Up Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google

The House antitrust subcommittee is expected to publish a report this week containing proposals to limit Big Tech companies' power.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies via video conference during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hearing on Online Platforms and Market Power in the Rayburn House office Building, July 29, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images

This story has been updated.

Two months after Congress grilled the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google’s parent Alphabet, House Democratic lawmakers now have a plan to break up these Big Tech companies.

On Tuesday, the House antitrust subcommittee released a 450-page report as part of a yearlong investigation concluding that there is “significant evidence” to show that the market power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google has reduced consumer choice and hindered competition.

“These firms have too much power, and that power must be reined in and subject to appropriate oversight and enforcement,” the report said. “Our economy and democracy are at stake.”

To remedy that, the report suggests that “Congress consider reasserting the original intent and broad goals of the antitrust laws, by clarifying that they are designed to protect not just consumers, but also workers, entrepreneurs, independent businesses, open markets, a fair economy and democratic ideals.”

To help guide Congress in that pursuit, the report, written by Democrats on the antitrust panel, includes a number of proposals to limit Big Tech companies’ power to absorb smaller competitors and expanding into multiple lines of business.

For example, Democrats proposed to lower the burden of proof for the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission in merger and acquisition cases so as to make it harder for large tech companies to buy out smaller companies—which, in many cases, are competitors. This would help stop or at least slow “future acquisitions of potential rivals and start-ups,” as the report puts it.

The report rips into the FCC over and over again, noting that it had done little—under both Presidents Obama and Trump—to stop the acquisitions that turned these large companies into monopolies.

“Both agencies have targeted their enforcement efforts on relatively small players—including ice skating teachers and organists—raising questions about their enforcement priorities,” it notes.

The document also looks at the chill on speech that has resulted from the sheer power collected by the big four companies. That includes “a prevalence of fear among market participants that depend on the dominant platforms, many of whom expressed unease that the success of their business and their economic livelihood depend on what they viewed as the platforms’ unaccountable and arbitrary power.”

The chair of the subcommittee, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), has long been a leader in the effort to regulate tech companies. Earlier this year, he warned that “If we don’t fix this, we’re not going to have a democracy anymore.” He has some Republican allies—the GOP tends to attack Facebook, despite the company’s lax rules governing speech—but not everyone on the committee is on board.

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“The report offers a chilling look into how Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook have used their power to control how we see and understand the world,” Republican Congressman Ken Buck, a member of the antitrust subcommittee, wrote in a draft response first reported by Reuters and Politico.

Buck said while he agreed that “antitrust enforcement agencies need additional resources and tools to provide proper oversight” over Big Tech firms’ aggressive acquisition practice, he opposed many of the recommendations laid out by Democratic lawmakers, including one calling for tech companies to delineate a clear “single line of business.” All of the four companies mentioned above operate multiple business lines across products and services.

Buck also disagreed with antitrust subcommittee Chair Cicilline’s recommendation to introduce legislation to force structural breakups of major online platforms like Amazon.

“This proposal is a thinly veiled call to break up Big Tech firms. We do not agree with the majority’s approach,” Buck wrote.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump began an assault on Twitter and Facebook, which he charged with being biased against him, with an executive order that could lead to the demise of their legal protection under the FCC. Last month, he began maneuvering to replace a member of the commission with a loyalist who would vote in favor of his own crackdown on the social media companies.

Stocks of Amazon and Apple were down 2 percent Wednesday. Facebook and Alphabet shares fell between 0.5 and 1 percent. None of the four companies has responded to the report.

It’s unclear whether and when any Republicans on the antitrust subcommittee will sign onto the Democratic majority’s full recommendations. A person familiar with the discussion told Politico that Buck’s memo could be incorporated into the final report. Congress Reveals Plans to Break Up Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google