subcommittees

Opinion | In a House subcommittee’s report, a strong step toward an antitrust revival

The subcommittee revived a key function of Congress: the power to investigate, report and set the stage for legislation. The report itself may become a keystone in a long-overdue dawning of progressive tech reforms.

Since the mid-1970s, Congress has celebrated the rise of new technology and tech businesses. Both political parties, for different reasons, dismissed antitrust concerns as a relic of a bygone age. For Democrats, globalization and technology seemed to guarantee competition. When antitrust was excised from the party platform in 1992, it had been there since the Gilded Age. For Republicans, markets cured themselves; antitrust was simply another form of regulatory abuse.

Into the vacuum between these positions came the rapacious Big Four. The subcommittee report details how they came to operate at unprecedented scale and reach. The companies’ combined valuation is more than $5 trillion. Add in Microsoft ($1.5 trillion) and Tesla ($275 billion), and the collective value is nearly equal to that of the NASDAQ 100.

The Big Four have enormous influence given their hold on communications infrastructure (Facebook, Google), e-commerce (Amazon), and start-ups and entrepreneurs (Apple). They directly compete with businesses that use their markets. The report tracked how they have gouged suppliers and imitated, acquired or eliminated competitors. It showed how their profits allow them to enter into new lines of business, where they repeat their predatory strategies.

As the subcommittee detailed, the Big Four have acquired hundreds of companies, often to eliminate potential competitors, in what are known as “killer acquisitions.” Meanwhile, antitrust regulators are underfunded — or possibly compromised by lobbying — and seldom are their powers exercised under antitrust laws to block mergers. Of nearly 100 Facebook acquisitions, the Federal Trade Commission extensively investigated only its 2012 purchase of Instagram (over which the FTC took no action).

When monopolies have unlimited