Today, President Biden signed an Executive Order that would promote competition in a broad swath of the economy, especially the digital economy, in order to provide quality choices for consumers, support innovation, increase worker wages, and lower consumer prices. In addition to addressing competition problems across a variety of industries and the technology sector, the Order aims to save Americans money on their internet bills — already some of the highest in the world — and to support platform competition, creating a fairer digital economy for us all. Public Knowledge will evaluate the Order in detail once it becomes publicly available.
Notably, the Order calls for the Federal Communications Commission to restore net neutrality, increase broadband price transparency, limit early internet subscription termination rates, and prevent internet service providers from making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ choices.
The Order also urges the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to “vigorously” enforce antitrust laws, and announces a new administration merger policy with greater scrutiny of acquisitions of nascent competitors, data accumulation, competition by “free” products, and effects on user privacy — issues endemic to the tech sector. In particular, the Order encourages the FTC to bar unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces, such as digital platforms; establish rules on surveillance and data collection; and to issue rules making it easier for Americans to repair items they own, including cell phones.
Public Knowledge applauds the Biden Administration’s efforts to increase competition and promote fairness in the new digital economy and encourages Congress to support this vision for greater competition.
The following can be attributed to Chris Lewis, President and CEO of Public Knowledge:
“With this comprehensive and in-depth Executive Order, President Biden shines a light on how the federal government has a responsibility to help millions of Americans benefit from competition. For too long, both Democratic and Republican administrations have ignored the growing lack of competition in the tech and communications sector, allowing decades of mergers and consolidation. At the same time, we have seen insufficient regulatory action to protect consumers from the power that these dominant players wield over prices, consumer choice, and equitable access to essential communications tools.
“We can’t expect large corporations like broadband providers and dominant digital platforms to meet public interest needs because they are driven by profits and control many markets as monopolies or duopolies. We must require them to reflect our societal interests — by insisting that they meet public interest obligations and compete for us. As a direct result of competition, consumers can expect lower prices, more choices, higher quality products and services, and new innovations.
“Today’s Executive Order recognizes the problem and highlights key remedies, but we still need broader authority, resources, and the political will to achieve this economy-wide vision. President Biden has pointed the way forward, now we must see action from other parts of the government that meets the President’s vision. For example, most of the actions directed by the President in the broadband market require an agency with authority to protect consumers over broadband, such as classification of broadband as a Title II service under the Communications Act. Without presidential action to nominate a full five-member FCC, these actions are unlikely to occur. Without Congressional support and political will, real oversight and change in the broadband market is unlikely to be lasting. We have learned this lesson for the last two decades of broadband policy.
“Similarly in the digital platform market, this direction from the Biden administration will improve antitrust enforcement and push enforcers to take the power of Big Tech seriously. At the same time, antitrust officials still lack the resources and authority to fully meet the moment. History has shown that bold actions to halt the consolidation of tech and media markets are handicapped by mistaken judicial decisions and a corresponding fear of challenging monopoly power by antitrust enforcers. Congress must act to give antitrust enforcers the legal tools and financial resources they need to achieve the goals of the President’s vision in the digital marketplace. This vision would be further strengthened by the creation of an agency with authority to regulate dominant digital platforms, ensuring we never backslide from this commitment to competitive markets.
“Achieving the benefits of competition for consumers will require the political will to use all the tools at our disposal, including those at both the executive branch and in Congress. Today it is clear that the Biden Administration is committed to doing its part to promote competition in these key areas. Now we must see action to match this commitment — from executive agencies, independent agencies, and from Congress. We will continue to hold them accountable to these goals and the responsibility they have to the public.”
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