WASHINGTON—The Justice Department Monday endorsed legislation forbidding large digital platforms such as Amazon and Google from favoring their own products and services over competitors’, marking the Biden administration’s first full-throated support of the antitrust measure.
“The Department views the rise of dominating platforms as presenting a threat to open markets and competition, with risks for consumers, businesses, innovation, resiliency, global competitiveness, and our democracy,” says a letter to bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, signed by Peter Hyun, the Justice Department’s acting assistant attorney general for legislative affairs.
The letter, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, expresses support for the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which the Senate’s judicial panel approved in January in a bipartisan vote, as well as similar legislation moving through the House.
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Amazon.com Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Apple Inc. and others oppose the proposed legislation, saying it would make it harder to offer popular services. The bills’ opponents also say it is fair for e-marketplaces, search engines and app stores to profit off their creations’ popularity.
The department’s letter throws its weight behind a different view: that the platforms’ dominant position gives them unchecked power to influence the fate of other businesses, and that restricting the platforms’ conduct would carry significant benefits.
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“Discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms can sap the rewards from other innovators and entrepreneurs, reducing the incentives for entrepreneurship and innovation,” the letter says. “Even more importantly, the legislation may support the growth of new tech businesses adjacent to the platforms, which may ultimately pose a critically needed competitive check to the covered platforms themselves.”
The bills supplement existing antitrust laws by clarifying what kinds of conduct Congress views as anti-competitive and illegal, the letter adds, noting that “doing so would enhance the ability of the DOJ and [the Federal Trade Commission] to challenge that drive.”
The Biden administration’s support boosts the prospects for passing the legislation, which has cleared key committees in the House and Senate.
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But it still hasn’t received a vote on the floor of either chamber, and it faces industry resistance as well as skepticism on both sides of the aisle. Some conservatives are wary of expanding the government’s power to police digital markets, while some Democrats, particularly from California, say the legislation unfairly targets a handful of large companies.
At the January committee vote, a number of senators who voted “yes” said they still wanted to see changes to the bill before supporting it on the Senate floor. The legislation’s backers, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), are in talks with their colleagues to craft a version of the bill that can pass.