With help from Leah Nylen, Cristiano Lima and John Hendel
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— Klo reveals antitrust revamp: A new legislative package from incoming Senate Judiciary antitrust Chair Amy Klobuchar could make it a lot harder for tech and telecom companies to do deals.
— Hear, hear: A House consumer protection panel will put Amazon and social media platforms under the microscope today at a hearing on the online fraud and scams that continue to proliferate one year into the pandemic.
— Ad tech case in the spotlight: Six weeks after Texas and eight other Republican-led states lodged an antitrust suit against Google, the search giant and Texas attorney general face off for the first time today in federal court.
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TODAY: KLO’S ANTITRUST OVERHAUL INBOUND — The incoming Senate Judiciary antitrust chair is dropping her long-awaited antitrust reform bill today — and it’s not just the Big Tech players who need to watch out. Klobuchar is proposing a major revamp that would make it much harder for the biggest U.S. companies to do deals.
— How so? Any company with more than $100 billion in annual revenue would have a far higher bar for acquisitions: they’d need to show that the merger would not hamper competition. Based on the Fortune 500 rankings for 2020, that would affect leading tech platforms like Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft; telecoms like AT&T and Verizon; and cable company Comcast. POLITICO’s antitrust guru Leah Nylen has the full details on the bill.
— $$$: In an interview with Leah, Klobuchar said she’ll push the Senate to consider the bill as part of its focus on economic recovery after the pandemic relief passes. The most important piece of the legislation will be increasing funding for the FTC and DOJ, agencies Klobuchar called “shadows of their former selves” with fewer employees today than during the Reagan Administration in 1984. “You can’t take on the biggest companies the world has ever known with bandaids and duct tape,” she said.
— Antitrust hearings galore: In the meantime, Klobuchar’s antitrust panel is taking a page out of its House counterparts’ book and planning a series of hearings on how monopolies and a lack of competition are impacting specific industries. Klobuchar said she plans to hold sessions on tech, telecom and communications, pharmaceuticals and agriculture, among other areas.
HOUSE HEARING TARGETS COVID SCAMS, FRAUDS — The House Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection Subcommittee today will examine reports of skyrocketing online scams and fraud during the coronavirus pandemic, including on social media. According to a memo prepared by the panel’s majority staff, scams originating on social platforms have “more than tripled in the past year.” You can also expect lawmakers to again drill into allegations of price gouging on Amazon, and to potentially dig into the company’s recent settlement with the FTC over claims it withheld tips from delivery workers.
— The latest plea to beef up the FTC: William Kovacic, the George W. Bush-era Republican FTC chair, in his written testimony calls on Congress to significantly expand the agency’s resources so it can better address online harm. “There is a grave mismatch between the duties Congress has assigned the FTC and the resources it has given the agency to carry out its mandate,” he wrote. Kovacic suggested tripling its annual budget and using those funds mainly to “raise salaries” to attract more talent and also to add employees.
— An endorsement for the chair’s counterfeits proposal: Jessica Rich, former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in her testimony endorses Consumer Protection Chair Jan Schakowsky’s (D-Ill.) legislation to require that the identity of high-volume third-party sellers be verified on online marketplaces — a bid to crack down on stolen or fraudulent goods. “Although Section 230 reform is a complex undertaking that is well beyond the scope of this hearing, the Chair’s bill from last year — the Inform Consumers Act — is a great step forward (short of wholesale 230 reform) in ensuring platform accountability,” Rich wrote.
IT’S ALWAYS BIGGER TECH IN TEXAS — Google and the Texas attorney general will have their first face-off today in federal court down in Plano, a suburb of Dallas. Texas and eight other Republican-led states sued Google in December for alleged antitrust violations related to the tech giant’s control over the advertising technology market.
— Location, location, location: The search company has asked to transfer the case to California, where it faces a number of private antitrust suits on ad tech, but Texas, predictably, wants to stay in Texas. The witnesses it plans to call are closer to Texas than to San Francisco, the states said in a brief filed late Tuesday, and the California federal court also tends to have a backlog of cases (with a median time to trial of 44 months). Eastern Texas, meanwhile, has fewer cases and the time to trial is a mere 18 months. Judge Sean D. Jordan likely won’t rule on the transfer motion today but could set a schedule for when he will.
ALSO TODAY: DEMOCRATS RE-UP BILL TO FUND THE FIGHT AGAINST ONLINE CHILD ABUSE — A group of Democrats, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), is reintroducing legislation today that would boost funding for federal efforts to combat child exploitation online by $5 billion. The Invest in Child Safety Act is a counterproposal of sorts to the bipartisan EARN IT Act, S. 3398 (116), which targets the tech industry’s liability protections.
BROADBAND LAND: ROSENWORCEL MAKES THE ROUNDS — New acting FCC chief Jessica Rosenworcel is taking the stage this afternoon to talk about the challenges of distance learning, joining Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) at a University of Virginia event. It’s the latest example of how, since Rosenworcel’s Jan. 21 leadership designation, she’s started building a public profile around her ideas for tackling the pandemic and unlocking the agency’s E-Rate program subsidies to support virtual learning — a move that scored applause from a Senate Republican who co-chairs the Broadband Caucus. She’s trying to use these days wisely in part as an audition for the permanent leadership position. (Meng supports Rosenworcel for that job, the lawmaker’s office tells John.)
Talking CEO John Matze was booted by the board.
Rep. Ken Buck was tapped to serve as the top Republican on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, Cristiano reports. … Reps. Cheri Bustos, Kai Kahele, Teresa Leger Fernandez and Ritchie Torres are joining the House Rural Broadband Task Force. … House Armed Services is forming a new subcommittee focused on artificial intelligence, spectrum, and other science and tech policy issues. … The U.S. government is establishing a Copyright Public Modernization Committee.
After 35 years in the industry, Charter President and COO John Bickham announced plans to retire at the end of 2022. … Steve LaFleche, who has worked at IBM for more than three decades and was most recently its managing director for the state of New York, was named IBM’s general manager for the U.S. public and federal market. … Bilal Sayyed, former director of the FTC’s office of policy planning, is joining TechFreedom as a senior adjunct fellow.
Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the charitable initiative of Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, gave the Day One Project a $350,000 grant to further its tech policy efforts. “Serious support for science and technology policy will help rebuild America and restore American prosperity and security,” Newmark said Wednesday.
I see what you did there: What Jeff Bezos’ departure means for Mark Zuckerberg, via WaPo.
The Digital Bridge: The name of our new, weekly transatlantic tech newsletter. In the latest edition, POLITICO’s Mark Scott talks to Europe’s digital honcho Margrethe Vestager about social media companies’ banning of Donald Trump, and to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler about a renewed U.S.-EU digital alliance. You can read more and subscribe here.
On Prop. 22: “The California Supreme Court has declined to block a voter-passed law shielding gig companies from reclassifying their workers,” POLITICO reports.
Surveillance snag in Canada: “Facial recognition startup Clearview AI conducted mass surveillance of Canadians and broke privacy laws by scraping billions of images from the Internet, concluded an investigation by the country’s top privacy regulators,” POLITICO reports.
ICYMI: “Comcast on Wednesday said it would suspend its new fees on heavy home Internet users in more than a dozen Northeastern states,” WaPo reports, “reversing course on a policy that threatened higher bills for some families amid the coronavirus pandemic.”
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).