Q&A: Big Tech Reboot
With US Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: Why did you introduce the US Innovation and Online Choice Act?
A: In my county meetings with Iowans, I get a lot of comments about anti-competitive behavior that impacts the prices families pay for groceries, gasoline, and prescription drugs. Cattle producers feel squeezed by the big four meat packers while restaurants and consumers pay more for beef. Biofuel producers and retailers are constantly battling Big Oil’s schemes to dump the renewable fuel standard while consumers hurt themselves at the pumps. For several years I locked horns with Big Pharma. I conducted surveillance work on insulin manufacturers and companies that gamed the system with EpiPens at taxpayer expense. Additionally, I have advanced bipartisan legislation to curb anti-competitive practices and improve access to affordable medicines.
Another big sector of the US economy that touches the daily lives of Americans is Big Tech. Since the dawn of the Internet, the American free market has fostered remarkable innovation that has changed the way Americans buy and sell goods and services, communicate with each other, learn, work and live. After decades of growing market share on digital platforms, Big Tech is flexing its muscles to gain an edge while harming small businesses and consumers on their platforms. Big Tech has an outsized influence in American culture and commerce; big players abuse their dominance to stifle competition and innovation. I’m leading this bipartisan effort with Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Big Tech would benefit from a dose of common sense from the Midwest. Our antitrust reforms are not about breaking up Big Tech or banning the products and services they offer. We strive to prevent actions that stifle competition and harm small businesses and consumers.
Q: What would your reforms do?
A: Although Big Tech opposes regulation of its business model, it is important that the rules of the road promote vigorous competition to keep our economy growing and the information lanes open. American consumers don’t want gatekeepers censoring content on their platforms or picking winners and losers. The good news is that there is an appetite for reform in Congress to curb Big Tech’s abusive practices. Our bill came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 16-6 bipartisan vote. Unsurprisingly, well-funded lobbying and messaging efforts are underway to derail the reforms, using scare tactics such as false claims that our bill would torpedo popular programs such as Two-Day Shipping or would make search engines, online maps and restaurant reviews meaningless. This bill would do none of that; it would only require that dominant Big Tech platforms cannot create unfair preferences or treat their own products or services more favorably than other companies that need to use the platform to reach their customers. Our bill would set standards for fair and non-discriminatory treatment of commercial users. Consider what this bill doesn’t do – it wouldn’t prevent a smartphone from having apps pre-installed; it would not prevent providers from offering consumer-benefit subscription services, such as Amazon Prime; it wouldn’t stop a company from offering its own app store with whatever security features it chooses to include. Again, increased competition levels the playing field for start-ups and small businesses and expands consumer choice. Free enterprise has anchored America’s economic growth and prosperity for generations. Without the competitive protections that prevent industry giants from monopolizing market share and crowding out competitors, American innovation would wither on the vine. For example, it has been 100 years since Congress passed the Packers and Stockyards Act to prohibit unfair practices that give undue preferences and advantages. Independent cattlemen have the short end of the stick when law enforcement has no teeth behind the bark. The same idea goes for Big Tech. I am working to enact antitrust legislation so that dominant Big Tech platforms cannot harm competition. Eliminating discriminatory practices will help foster competition that is good for consumers – more choice in content, services and goods from a variety of providers. At my riding meetings, one specific issue keeps coming up. “Why can’t you get along in Washington and work together.” This bill enjoys broad bicameral support across the ideological spectrum. It meets the Goldilocks standard – it’s neither too left nor too right, and we’re working to reach a consensus. It also meets a rule of thumb that I follow in the US Senate. I will work with anyone at the decision-making table to resolve issues on behalf of Iowa.