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Biden urges restoration of net neutrality, greater scrutiny of tech mergers

President Biden is signing an executive order Friday urging federal agencies to more aggressively police conduct by Big Tech — including to more closely review acquisitions that thwart competition. The action comes amid a growing backlash by lawmakers and regulators against massive Silicon Valley firms.

Biden’s order doesn’t name the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon or Apple but the White House says it addresses “areas in which dominant tech firms are undermining competition and reducing innovation,” including M&A, data collection and the “right to repair” devices.

The order, “Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” isn’t just aimed at Big Tech. The sweeping set of recommendations also includes provisions targeted at internet service providers — including an official call to restore net neutrality rules repealed under Trump — as well as healthcare, agriculture, transportation, and banking and consumer finance. All told, Biden’s executive order includes 72 initiatives directed at more than a dozen federal agencies to “promptly tackle some of the most pressing competition problems across our economy,” according to a White House press release.

Relating to Big Tech, the order establishes a policy by the Biden administration of “greater scrutiny of mergers, especially by dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.”

Biden’s order also asserts that “Big Tech platforms gathering too much personal information” and directs the FTC to establish rules on surveillance and the accumulation of data.

The order encourages the FTC to “establish rules barring unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces,” according to the White House, arguing that “The large platforms’ power gives them unfair opportunities to get a leg up on the small businesses that rely on them to reach customers.”

Citing smartphone makers that prevent “independent repair shops” from fixing damaged devices, the order “Encourages the FTC to issue rules against anticompetitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or doing DIY repairs of your own devices and equipment,” per the White House.

In addition, Biden’s order officially “encourages” the FCC to restore net neutrality rules, which were overturned by the Trump Administration.

And with an eye toward fostering broadband competition and reducing costs for consumers, the president wants the FCC to require internet service providers to report prices and subscription rates to the agency; limit “excessive” early-termination fees; and bar ISPs from making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ choices.

Biden also is encouraging the FTC to “ban or limit non-compete agreements” for employees, something the administration says is among the ways big companies seek to stifle competition.

Biden’s executive order looking to rein Big Tech’s power comes after a federal judge last month dismissed antitrust lawsuits filed against Facebook by the FTC and more than 40 state attorneys general. The suits, which had sought to unwind Facebook’s deals for Instagram and WhatsApp, failed to establish that the social media giant holds a monopoly, per the ruling.

The Biden order spells out the areas the administration wants agencies to focus on to curb Big Tech’s anticompetitive behavior. In June, Biden’s pick the lead the FTC — Lina Khan, a vocal critic of powerful technology companies — was sworn in as the agency’s chair. Subsequently, Amazon formally asked the FTC for Khan to recuse herself from antitrust reviews involving the company, including its $8.5 billion deal for MGM, alleging that Khan has displayed a demonstrable bias against Amazon.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee last month passed a set of six broad bills aimed at updating antitrust laws to apply to Big Tech. The bills include provisions that would bar large internet companies from giving their own products or services advantages over competitors’ offerings and require tech firms to prove M&A deals are not anticompetitive (whereas the burden of proof under current antitrust law is on the government). Variety


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