The movement to combat monopoly power is noteworthy in that it is one of the few major themes that is supported by both parties in Congress. Skeptics, however, rightly point out that while Democrats and Republicans believe the US economy is suffering from a competition problem, they disagree with what steps should be taken to resolve it.
But that divide is nowhere near as widespread at the state level, where attorneys general have come together in bipartisan lawsuits against big tech companies like Facebook Inc.
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and Alphabet Inc.’s
Google, and where even Republican law enforcement agencies have shown a willingness to partner with Biden-appointed officials at agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to prosecute companies that violate competition laws.
This non-partisanship was demonstrated at the National Association of Attorney General Consumer Protection’s conference on Tuesday, where the heads of these agencies were invited to speak about their consumer protection efforts and how they can work with leading state law enforcement agencies to achieve these goals to reach.
The conversation quickly turned to pro-competitive politics. Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Bureau Dave Uejio told the audience that “competition policy has never been more important than it is today” because “competition is the best way to ensure that consumers have power in their transactions with businesses . ”
Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, formulated the FTC’s lawsuit against Facebook, in which 48 attorneys general from 46 states, the District of Columbia and Guam participated to strengthen consumer protection.
“In digital markets … we see major consumer protection issues” related to privacy, consumer data use and harassment, Slaughter said. “That comes from platforms with enormous market power.”
Google is also the subject of a joint lawsuit filed last fall by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division in partnership with 13 attorneys-general, while a bipartisan coalition of 38 attorneys-general filed an even broader lawsuit. The Department of Justice and the FTC are also Investigate reportedly Amazon.com Inc.
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and Apple Inc..
for violations of federal competition laws.
While Democrats and Republicans agree that large tech firms in particular need stronger antitrust scrutiny, the proliferation of high-tech components in products from equipment to farm equipment has made that distinction less helpful, Slaughter said.
She pointed to a Congress report The FTC last week examined the issue of manufacturer restrictions on product repair, which revealed how companies are generating more revenue from consumers by developing products that cannot be repaired by third parties.
Proponents of the “right to repair” have cited Apple’s iPhone as an example of a product that is said to be out of date in a short period of time, as well as that of John Deere
agricultural implements. “The phone or tractor you buy is quickly turning into a lump of trash,” Slaughter said because of the tactic.
Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal also appeared at the conference, offering to assist state corporations and federal agencies, asking them to show “backbone and grit” in enforcing antitrust laws. Blumenthal is co-sponsoring the latest legislative proposals to increase the resources of federal antitrust authorities and give them more powers to block mergers and dissolve companies that engage in anti-competitive practices. Similar legislation is also being examined in-house.
“Too often the agencies have lagged behind and failed to achieve their enforcement,” he said. “If laws aren’t enforced, they’re a dead letter.”