TR Daily Antitrust Enforcers Seek to Reassure House Subcommittee on Tech Issues
Thursday, November 14, 2019

Antitrust Enforcers Seek to Reassure House Subcommittee on Tech Issues

The nation’s top antitrust officials today sought to assure lawmakers that they were up to the task of enforcing competition law in the technology sector even though they had done little to prevent the market from being dominated by a handful of firms.

“The Department of Justice has opened a broad inquiry into competition involving digital platforms,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, chief of DoJ’s Antitrust Division, told the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust, commercial, and administrative law subcommittee.

“We are reviewing whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and whether they have been engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers,” Mr. Delrahim testified.

“We are considering the widespread concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online. We are making this review a priority of the division, and we are proceeding in an objective and fair-minded manner and will wait to see where the evidence leads before reaching a decision on next steps,” he added.

Likewise, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons said the FTC had “shifted internal resources” within its Bureau of Competition to create a Technology Enforcement Division to focus on competition issues in the technology sector.

Today’s hearing, titled “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 4: Perspectives of the Antitrust Agencies,” is part of the Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan investigation into competition in digital markets. Committee leaders noted at the hearing that U.S. antitrust agencies seemed less aggressive at regulating the tech sector than those in Europe.

“Over the past decade the largest technology firms have acquired over 436 companies, many of which were actual or potential competitors,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D., R.I.), the subcommittee’s chairman. “But not a single one of these acquisitions was challenged by antitrust enforcers. In fact only a handful were closely scrutinized.”

“The enforcement gap in these markets has created a de facto antitrust exemption for online platforms,” Rep. Cicilline added. He wondered whether the lack of activity reflected a lack of will, a need for new laws, or a lack of resources.

Mr. Simons acknowledged that resources constraints were a factor in FTC decisions to take companies to court to enforce antitrust law. “We find ourselves in a situation where we’re resource-constrained. When you live in that kind of environment, you want to be careful about the complaints you do file,” he told the subcommittee.

“You want to focus on the ones that have a better chance of success and also the ones that have the most impact,” he said. “So in that sense we are concerned about litigation risk. If we had more resources we could bring more cases.” —Tom Leithauser, [email protected]

MainStory: Congress FTC MergersAntitrust FederalNews

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