House panel approves plan to help break up tech giants

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The House Judiciary Committee advanced its most aggressive proposal for restraining Silicon Valley's behemoths Thursday, voting for a bill that would make it easier to break up companies like Facebook and Google.

The 3 p.m. vote on the Ending Platform Monopolies Act came one day and five hours after the committee first began a marathon series of debates and votes on six bills targeting Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

The antitrust push has triggered a huge lobbying fight by the tech companies and their trade groups against the proposals. It's also split both the Democrats and Republicans, with members of both parties fighting for and against the legislation.

The tally: The committee voted 21-20 to refer the breakup bill favorably to the floor, drawing the support of two Republicans but opposition from four Democrats.

The bill would allow federal regulators to sue to break up companies that both operate a dominant platform and sell their own goods or services on it, if the arrangement poses an “irreconcilable conflict of interest.”

Led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the bill would put regulators on a collision course with companies like Amazon that compete with third-party vendors on their own marketplace.

Jayapal said the bill was based on previous antitrust actions like the AT&T breakup and the initial proposed breakup of Microsoft.

“It was strong antitrust regulation that created the space for the great renaissance of technology that later drove a lot of the U.S. economy,” said Jayapal, whose district includes Amazon's headquarters. “We don’t want innovation and competition to stop here; we want it to continue for many others.”

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), one of the co-sponsors, argued that Americans should not have to hope that these large corporations wield their power responsibly.

“We don't have to accept their dominance as the price of our convenience,” Jones said.

But Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents San Jose, compared the bill to a grenade that would “blow up the tech economy.”

If the tech companies “were dominating overall in an impermissive way, you would see, like tall trees, things shriveling at the bottom, and that is not what we have found,” Lofgren said.

Earlier votes: The committee had previously approved five other antitrust bills Wednesday and early Thursday morning:

H.R. 3826 (117) would prohibit dominant digital platforms from acquiring would-be rivals, a tactic that Facebook and Google have wielded especially aggressively.

— H.R. 3816 (117) would bar platforms such as Apple's App Store and Amazon's Marketplace from giving their own products unfair advantages over those of competitors.

— H.R. 3849 (117), which the committee spent seven hours debating, would make it easier for consumers to transfer their personal information from one digital service to another.

— H.R. 3843 (117) would increase the merger fees that regulators collect from companies.

— H.R. 3460 (117) would give state attorneys general control over which courts hear antitrust cases. That bill emerged after Google attempted to move one of its multistate antitrust suits from Texas federal court to a venue in its home state of California.

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