The five bills, which will be put to a vote by committees on Wednesday, may pave the way for the reorganization or dissolution of giant companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon while reshaping the entire Internet ecosystem.
The measures will prevent tech giants from running a third-party platform and offering competitive services on those platforms at the same time, which would be a major blow to companies like Apple and Amazon.
Representatives are also seeking to prevent technology companies from giving priority to their products and services, in a move targeting Google in particular.
Another requires data “transfer” and “operational compatibility,” which would make it easier for people to ditch Facebook, for example, while keeping their data and contact addresses.
Under the package, larger tech companies will be prevented from taking over competitors, which allocate extra money to implement antitrust measures.
Fiona Scott Morton, a professor at Yale University and a former chief technology officer, said the law stems from a failure to enforce antitrust measures in the United States and elsewhere aimed at mitigating the dominance of these companies.
“This is a law, it is no longer just anti-monopoly,” she said.
She indicated that if the laws are passed, Apple will be forced to sell or close its music service so as not to discriminate against its opponents, such as Spotify.
Morten said the interoperability-related text “will be very vital for consumers as it will allow people to join social media other than Facebook and Instagram and stay connected with their friends.”
The package comes amid signs of a tougher stance from Washington on the dominant tech giants, with moves that included President Joe Biden’s appointment of Lena Khan, a prominent advocate for the breakup of big tech, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, an executive arm tasked with enforcing antitrust.
The House Judiciary Committee decided to vote Wednesday on the package, which enjoys some Republican support alongside Democrats, which increases the possibility of its passage in the House of Representatives, although its fate in the Senate is less clear.
The actions follow a 16-month investigation in the House of Representatives led by Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, which concluded that tech giants are exploiting their dominance and have a significant impact on the economy.
Christopher Seagers, professor of antitrust law at the University of Cleveland, explained that the package represents a radical approach to dealing with the growing influence of these companies.
He said the laws would “make the platforms work more like airlines or electricity and water service providers have to provide their services to anyone and not give anyone (or even themselves) discriminatory preferences.”
“These laws can also end some very popular products,” he added.
“I’m not sure how Apple can continue its smartphone software, for example, if iOS devices or the App Market are covered platforms, and there might be consequences for products like Amazon Prime, Google Maps, and digital books under the Google Books project and not that”.
However, he pointed out that the repercussions may not be bad in the long run, because “the markets are rearranging themselves while new competitors appear… But it can be said that these laws seem to involve risks, and I think that their consequences are difficult to predict.”
Other analysts have warned vehemently of the unpredictable fallout from targeting highly successful companies that so many depend on in their daily lives.
Ian Murray, a senior analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the move could prompt Apple, for example, to close its app market and sell “blank phones” or turn the phones division into a separate company.
“Often, the average customer will perceive their services to be severely degraded,” he said in a statement.
Aurelien Portoys of the Foundation for Information Technology and Innovation, a think tank close to companies, believes that the US move is a reflection of the “digital market law” in Europe and would “distort” competitiveness.
Portoys explained that the law comes amid a wave of resentment toward the tech giants, but may eventually harm consumers by allowing less effective companies to win the market.
“Consumers will not be able to benefit from the financial power of major corporations,” he said in a statement.
Analyst Olivier Blanchard of the Futurum Research Institute said that the package “reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of how the technology industry operates and the necessity with which it must work in order to maintain its competitiveness, market relevance, innovation and profitability.”
“Do the big tech companies have too much influence?” he asked. Yes, you can say that.”
“But if the goal is to keep big and powerful companies in check, Congress can approach the problem by putting in place barriers that protect consumers and competition without destroying the entire system,” he added.