Politics|Tech giants are aggressively lobbying Washington to back off on antitrust rules.
June 23, 2021
In the days after lawmakers introduced legislation that could break the dominance of tech companies, Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, called Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress to deliver a warning.
The antitrust bills were rushed, he said. They would crimp innovation. And they would hurt consumers by disrupting the services that power Apple’s lucrative iPhone, Mr. Cook cautioned at various points, according to five people with knowledge of the conversations.
The calls by Mr. Cook are part of a forceful and wide-ranging pushback by the tech industry since the proposals were announced this month. Executives, lobbyists, and more than a dozen think tanks and advocacy groups paid by tech companies have swarmed Capitol offices, called and emailed lawmakers and their staff members, and written letters arguing there will be dire consequences for the industry and the country if the ideas become law.
The bills, the most sweeping set of antitrust legislation in generations, take aim at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by trying to undo their dominance in online commerce, advertising, media and entertainment. There are six bills in total, and if passed, they would empower regulators, make it harder for the tech giants to acquire start-ups and prevent the companies from using their strength in one area to form a grip in another.
The companies, which have long faced accusations of holding too much power, are now scrambling to find their footing with Democrats in control of Congress and the White House. The administration has picked aggressive critics of Big Tech as top antitrust regulators, including Lina Khan, the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission whose work as a legal scholar laid the foundation for the current antitrust push.
In Congress, progressive Democrats focused on the market power of the companies have united with some Republicans accusing social media companies of political bias and censorship. Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, the ranking Republican of the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, co-sponsored some of the bills being considered and has brought along other Republican members to support the legislation.
But the antitrust issue — even with some agreement between parties — has created new fault lines.
Within the Republican Party, there are deep divides on the antitrust bills. Tucker Carlson, the influential Fox News host, has praised the bills and has pushed for the breakup of Big Tech companies. But Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, and Mark Meadows, who was chief of staff to President Donald J. Trump, wrote in an opinion piece on Fox News’s website that the bills would give the Democratic administration more control over the tech companies.
“Democrats are weaponizing legitimate Republican anger about Big Tech’s abuses to encourage Republicans to support these bills,” they wrote. “But Republicans should read the fine print.”