Colorado’s congressional odd couple, Buck and Neguse, is taking up Huge Tech

US Representative Ken Buck is not your typical anti-monopoly crusader.

The conservative Windsor Congressman is a free market evangelist who once believed that the monopoly behavior of big tech firms like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook could be resolved by businesses and consumers – without government intervention.

“Then I learned more and more about these big tech monopoly platforms and how they abused their position and really suppressed competition in the market,” Buck told the Post in an interview. “As a (former) prosecutor, I was really offended by your behavior. For me it’s a border criminal. “

After enjoying decades of success in the largely unregulated Internet, amassing billions of customers and trillions of dollars along the way, Big Tech has been scrutinized by all parties from censorship and misinformation to acquiring competitors and collecting personal data. The result, in Buck’s words, could be “reckoning” for an industry that affects almost every American’s daily life.

Buck is the top Republican on the House of Representatives Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee, a 24-person Democratic-led committee that surveyed the greatest billionaires in technology for 16 months, gathered over a million pages of documents and one scathing 450-page report published in October claiming big tech giants act like monopolies. (Antitrust law, the main focus of the committee, relates to laws that regulate monopolies.)

Buck is assisted on the subcommittee by Rep. Joe Neguse, a progressive Democrat from Lafayette, a friend of Buck and a former vice chairman of the subcommittee. As a liberal who is naturally skeptical of massive corporations, Neguse came to an antitrust outcome more easily, saying in an interview that the “documentary evidence we accumulated in the course of the investigation” made this clear. “I was very sure that I believed, for example, that Facebook was a monopoly,” he added.

US MP Joe Neguse of Colorado works at the Capitol in Washington, DC the night before the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump begins on February 8. Erin Schaff, New York Times

The Congressional Inquiry into Big Tech contradicts the stereotype that DC is a place where ideologues retreat to partisan corners and shout on the other side. Instead there are bipartisan agreements and, in Buck’s case, a willingness to reconsider longstanding economic views.

Buck, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, on Wednesday teamed up with Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and prosecutor in Trump’s second impeachment trial, to put in place laws they say would undermine big tech would weaken the news industry by allowing small news outlets to bargain with tech giants like Google and Facebook.

“Congressman Ken Buck has spearheaded the conservative fight for big tech accountability,” said Mike Davis, president and founder of the Conservative Internet Accountability Project in Colorado. “He was a visionary on this. He saw the problem and dealt with it before almost every other Republican in the House. “

How it started

Buck had long been skeptical of the government’s role in blocking mergers, including the $ 26 billion worth of two-year Sprint-T-Mobile merger that closed last year. Companies like PopSockets have changed his mind.

Founded seven years ago in a bouldering garage by philosophy professor David Barnett, PopSockets makes detachable grips for cell phones that were sold on Amazon. The partnership with Amazon ended in August 2018 after Amazon silenced a spate of counterfeiting and counterfeiting on the site, according to Barnett’s testimony before the subcommittee.

Amazon responded to this decoupling with “heavy arming and bullying,” Barnett told the Antitrust Subcommittee during a January 2020 hearing in Boulder. PopSockets was not paid, they were refused to let another company sell on their website for partnering with PopSockets and selling fake grips instead of PopSockets.

“I think competition creates innovation, and I think these particular companies did everything they could to destroy innovation and competition,” Buck told The Post, referring to the four technology giants that the subcommittee examined along with a fifth : Twitter.

Neguse entered Congress with concerns about Big Tech’s control of the online marketplace. He said the Antitrust Subcommittee’s investigation “has undoubtedly reinforced my pre-existing concerns about concentration in the digital market.”

The young and rising star in Colorado politics grilled CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, especially Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, in July 2020. Neguse and Zuckerberg debated whether Facebook is a monopoly, as Neguse claimed and Zuckerberg denied.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, testifies ...

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press File

In this April 11, 2018 file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill about the use of Facebook data to reach American voters in the 2016 election and privacy.

During the hearing, Neguse held in hand internal Facebook documents in which the company boasted that it controlled 95% of social media in the US and carried out a “land grab” from competitors. Neguse read aloud from an email sent by Zuckerberg in 2012 that said Facebook could “probably only buy a competitive startup, but it will be a while before we can buy Google”. Zuckerberg said he couldn’t remember sending the email, but it was probably a joke.

“Facebook has used its market power,” Neguse told Zuckerberg, “to either buy or replicate the competition.” Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp (and) Instagram are now the most downloaded apps of the past decade. Your company, sir, owns them all and we have a word for them. That word is monopoly. “

How it goes

With its investigation of the four big tech companies in the rearview mirror, the Antitrust Subcommittee must now decide whether to create a package of invoices or take a step-by-step approach to reducing the power of the companies. In other words, this is the hard part.

“A more extreme remedy needs to be considered, although I am currently not ready to say that it is the right remedy. There are people who advocate allowing these platforms to run product lines and the platform, ”said Buck, referring to companies like Amazon that run an online marketplace and sell products on it.

Buck’s views are summarized in a 19-page report he released last year. In it, he argues that Congress should use the Hepburn Act of 1906 as a guide. This law banned railroad companies from owning mining companies as well, which would have given them control of the entire production line.

“Now it doesn’t offend me that a supermarket has its own brand of grape jelly because there are dozens and dozen of supermarket chains,” Buck said Thursday. “It offends me that an online retailer like Amazon starts a line of products and then discriminates against competitors.”

Democrats and Republicans on the subcommittee agree that antitrust agencies like the Federal Trade Commission need more money to beat big tech in court now and in the future. (The FTC is currently suing Facebook). There is also a bipartisan agreement on the need for data portability and interoperability – also known as the right of social media users to own and transfer the data they create. User data is Facebook’s most profitable asset.

And then there is the issue of mergers and acquisitions, which have been examined over the past few decades if there is reason to believe that they would cause prices to rise. Amie Stepanovich is the executive director of Silicon Flatirons, an organization at the University of Colorado that deals with technology law and policy. She said the government has been focusing on mergers “through this price lens” for consumers.

“But in the technical area,” she said, “most things don’t cost anything.”

Democrats and Republicans on the Antitrust Subcommittee agree that the standard does not exactly apply to big tech. Instead, they want the government to focus enforcement on oversized corporations. That and “the idea that these mergers can be reversed,” said Stepanovich, is making Big Tech go cold.

“They’re really scared of this conversation, and it could have a huge impact on the way they do business – every tech company does business – and how they move forward.”

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