FTC Chair Reveals ‘Assertive Posture’ Toward Antitrust Policy
FTC Commissioner nominee Lina M. Khan testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 21, 2021.

Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, has released new details about her policy priorities.

In a 69 to 28 July vote, the Senate confirmed Khan — a thirty-two-year-old law professor at Columbia University — to lead the FTC, which handles the federal government’s enforcement of antitrust and consumer protection laws. Though some Republicans expressed reservations about her willingness to interfere in the economy, others — such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) — approved her hawkish approach toward “Big Tech” firms.

Indeed, Khan’s memo emphasized the need to foster competitive marketplaces:

First, we need to address rampant consolidation and the dominance that it has enabled across markets. This will require both finding ways to strengthen our merger enforcement work as well as generally focusing our resources on scrutinizing dominant firms, where lack of competition makes unlawful conduct more likely. 

Growing evidence suggests that market power now looks to be an increasingly systemic problem across the economy, so we should generally focus our resources on the most significant actors, where our enforcement actions can have the greatest impact on the everyday lives of Americans. Given the ongoing merger surge, there is a real risk that markets will become only more consolidated absent our vigilance and assertive posture.

Khan likewise said that the agency needs to address dominant intermediaries and extractive business models:

Research documents how gatekeepers and dominant middlemen across the economy have been able to use their critical market position to hike fees, dictate terms, and protect and extend their market power. Business models that centralize control and profits while outsourcing risk, liability, and costs also warrant particular scrutiny, given that deeply asymmetric relationships between the controlling firm and dependent entities can be ripe for abuse.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been increasingly wary of monopolies — especially those in the technology sector. While Republicans see the policies of “Big Tech” companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook as a threat to free expression, Democrats largely emphasize the companies’ workforce practices and tax strategies.

Accordingly, several members of the House — including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) — proposed a package of five bills that would break up the aforementioned firms.

“Not only is self-regulation by Big Tech patently ineffective, but it also comes at the direct expense of workers, consumers, small businesses, our local communities, and the free press,” said Rep. Jayapal — who helps to lead the House Antitrust Subcommittee — in a press release. “From Amazon and Facebook to Google and Apple, it is clear that these unregulated tech giants have become too big to care and too powerful to ever put people over profits.”

Buck added that “Big Tech has abused its dominance in the marketplace to crush competitors, censor speech, and control how we see and understand the world.”

In July, President Biden signed the “Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy.” The measure directed the Federal Communications Commission to restrict early termination fees for broadband providers and to revisit net neutrality rules amended under the Trump administration.

“The heart of American capitalism is a simple idea: Open and fair competition,” said Biden. “That means that if your companies want to win your business, they have to go out and they have to up their game.”

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