Congress Leaves Key Tech Legislation on Table Over Recess

After a big victory passing CHIPS-plus, Congress recessed on Saturday with several technology goals pending. Among the outstanding items is a bipartisan antitrust bill that seeks to rein in the industry’s heavyweight players, a consumer privacy bill and confirmation of Gigi Sohn, a Biden administration nominee to the FCC, where net neutrality hangs in the balance. Although Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has promised to fast track those votes immediately upon return September 6, the clock is winding down as November’s midterm elections may push Democrats out of power in one or both houses.

“Prospects could plummet next year if Republicans gain control of the House, Senate, or both,” writes The Wall Street Journal, explaining that the antitrust bill’s principal targets — companies including Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta — “have backed groups spending tens of millions of dollars on advertising and lobbying in an effort to sink it.”

If passed, the new law would bar Big Tech firms from giving preferential treatment to sister companies or products and services they own or control in manner that harms competition.

“To pass the bill, supporters will need to overcome concerns among members of both parties,” reports WSJ, noting that Republicans including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky have expressed dissatisfaction with the measure. In June, Paul wrote on his website that “rather than pursue even stronger antitrust laws, Congress should allow the free market to thrive where consumers, not the government, decide how big a company should be.”

“On the Democratic side, objections have notably come from the California delegation, where most of the affected companies are based,” WSJ reports, quoting Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who represents Silicon Valley saying that “it’s a profound departure from our history to target specific companies for antitrust in legislation.”

One of the antitrust bill’s key sponsors, Representative David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), said “we continue to have very strong bipartisan support in both chambers, and the votes to pass it in both chambers. It’s really just a matter of getting it on the calendar.”

Last week a Schumer aide said the leader is working with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and others to gather the necessary support “and plans to bring it up for a vote,” WSJ writes, noting “that statement represents ‘a positive sign in the direction of passage’” and is the farthest that Schumer has gone to signal the bill make it to the Senate floor.

CNBC writes that there are times a lame duck session of Congress “can be very productive,” according to Harold Feld, senior VP for the non-profit Public Knowledge, “which receives funding from both Big Tech and telecom companies as well as their detractors. But to have a productive session, he added, Congress must set promising measures up for success before the midterms.”

Advocates say redefining the rules for Big Tech is imperative to ensure future innovation after decades of unchecked growth by a few first movers. CNBC quotes Proton CEO Andy Yen, whose company makes the encrypted email app ProtonMail, saying that “if the U.S. doesn’t move forward on Big Tech regulations, what that is saying to Big Tech is that they’re untouchable. So the abuses that we see today are only going to get worse.”

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