Big tech could get subpoenas in house probe

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Published: June 5, 2019 7:46:57 AM

The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department are also separately examining whether digital platform companies are harming competition.

Washington is ratcheting up antitrust scrutiny of some of the country’s most valuable companies after years of a hands-off approach. (File photo)Washington is ratcheting up antitrust scrutiny of some of the country’s most valuable companies after years of a hands-off approach. (File photo)

The U.S. House panel conducting an antitrust investigation of technology companies is prepared to issue subpoenas as it begins by focusing on the impact of digital platforms on news media organizations, the lawmaker leading the inquiry said.

Representative David Cicilline, the Rhode Island Democrat who chairs the Antitrust, Commercial & Administrative Law Subcommittee, said he would consider proposing legislation to reform antitrust laws before the current congressional session ends at the end of 2020.

“There is no question we will look at very closely whether or not the existing antitrust statutes are sufficient,” Cicilline told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday.

He said the subcommittee would hold public and private hearings, request records, use depositions, and if needed, issue subpoenas. The panel plans to produce a final report on its findings and possible legislative solutions with enough time for the current slate of lawmakers to consider, he said.

The subcommittee’s first hearing, on “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 1: The Free and Diverse Press,” is scheduled for June 11.

Gene Kimmelman, president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, David Chavern, chief executive officer of the trade group News Media Alliance, and Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, which favors aggressive antitrust enforcement, are scheduled to testify, according to a person familiar with the matter. The subcommittee has not yet released its witness list.

It’s the first hearing in the wider probe of the technology industry that the panel announced Monday, which will focus on the effect of tech platforms on digital markets, possible anti-competitive conduct of “dominant firms,” and whether current laws and enforcement policies are adequate.

The hearing will be the first of several on the topic, the person added.

Washington is ratcheting up antitrust scrutiny of some of the country’s most valuable companies after years of a hands-off approach. The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department are also separately examining whether digital platform companies are harming competition.

“There’s been tremendous concentration in these digital market places that are resulting in anti-competitive behavior, serious breaches of privacy, consumers not having control of their own data,” Cicilline told reporters Monday when the inquiry was announced. “This is the first time there’s been an investigation of this magnitude in decades and frankly, it’s long overdue.”

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