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Capitol Report: Acting FTC chair calls for ‘bold action’ to rein in tech, other monopolies

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Federal and state antitrust enforcers told members of a House Judiciary subcommittee that monopoly power in America today is stronger than it’s been in generations, and asked for greater funding and new legal tools to police some of America’s largest companies in the technology sector and beyond during a hearing on competition policy Thursday.

Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, acting chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, told the committee that she believes the FTC already has the authority to be much more active in promoting competition that it has been in recent decades, but that the agency faces “acute challenges” that must be addressed through increased funding and new legislation.

“I believe the FTC must push antitrust law forward through bold agency action,” Slaughter said. “That means prioritizing deterrence and using the full range of the FTC’s authority to stop unfair methods of competition,” adding that the agency should turn to long-dormant powers to issue rule-making that bans certain types of anticompetitive practices.

Slaughter had previously come out in support of rules that would ban companies from using mandatory non-compete agreements to suppress worker wages, and outside observers have argued that the FTC could look to ban tech companies like Amazon.com Inc.
AMZN,
-3.44%

and Google parent Alphabet Inc.
GOOG,
-2.62%

from using platforms to promote their products over those of rivals.

She spoke of “an ongoing threat from the courts” to FTC power to force companies to pay restitution for victims of anticompetitive practices, which she argued was necessary for deterring mergers that are clearly anticompetitive and “never should have gotten out of the boardroom.” Slaughter also argued for Congress to make changes to antitrust law that would put a greater burden of proof to showing proposed acquisitions would not harm competition.

Diane Wood, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, argued that Congress should consider giving the FTC and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice the power to force companies to disgorge profits earned from monopolistic behavior because current remedies may be “too weak or otherwise ineffective” at preventing companies from considering anticompetitive conduct.

Democratic members of the committee were eager to adopt these proposals. Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, the Democratic chairman of the antitrust panel, argued that monopolistic behavior in the tech sector is “destroying opportunity and entrepreneurship,” but also argued that monopoly power is rife throughout the economy, including in the health care and agricultural sectors.

Republicans, however, were eager to keep the focus on the technology sector. “The proposals I am supporting are limited to solely big tech monopoly platforms,” said Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee. “We must address predatory conduct of the big tech monopolies without jeopardizing other sectors of our economy.”

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