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Grassley on the Big Tech Reboot

Q: Why did you introduce the American Innovation and Choice Online Act?

A: During my county meetings with Iowans, I get a lot of feedback about anti-competitive behaviors that impact the prices families are paying for groceries, gas and prescription drugs. Cattle feeders feel squeezed by the Big Four meatpackers while restaurants and consumers pay more for beef. Biofuels producers and retailers are constantly battling Big Oil’s shenanigans to gut the Renewable Fuel Standard while consumers are getting gut-punched at the pump. For several years, I’ve locked horns with Big Pharma. I’ve conducted oversight work on insulin manufacturers and companies that gamed the system with EpiPens at taxpayer expense. Further, I’ve advanced bipartisan legislation to curb anti-competitive practices and improve access to affordable medicine.

Another big sector of the U.S. economy that touches the daily lives of Americans is Big Tech. Since the dawn of the internet, America’s free marketplace has fostered remarkable innovation that changed the way Americans buy and sell goods and services, communicate with each other, learn, work and live. After decades of growing market share across digital platforms, Big Tech is flexing its muscle to give itself a leg up while hurting small businesses and consumers on their platforms. Big Tech has outsized influence in American culture and commerce; the big players are abusing their dominance to stifle competition and innovation. I’m leading this bipartisan effort with Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Big Tech would benefit with a dose of Midwestern common sense. Our antitrust reforms aren’t aiming to break up Big Tech or outlaw the products and services they offer. We’re working to prevent actions that stifle competition and harm small businesses and consumers.

Q: What would your reforms do?

A: Although Big Tech opposes regulation of its business model, it’s important the rules of the road foster robust competition to keep our economy growing and keep the lanes of information open. American consumers don’t want gatekeepers censoring content on their platforms or picking winners and losers. The good news is there’s appetite for reform in Congress to rein in Big Tech’s abusive practices. Our bill made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan 16-6 vote. Not surprisingly, well-funded lobbying and messaging efforts are underway to derail reforms, using scare tactics such as false claims that our bill would torpedo popular programs such as two-day shipping or render search engines, online maps and restaurant reviews meaningless. This legislation would do none of those things; it would only require that dominant Big Tech platforms can’t create unfair preferences or treat their own products or services more favorably than other businesses that need to use the platform to reach their customers. Our bill would set standards for fair and nondiscriminatory treatment of business users. Consider what this bill does not do – it would not prevent a smart phone from having apps preinstalled; it would not prevent providers from offering subscription services that consumers benefit from, such as Amazon Prime; it would not prevent a company from offering its own app store with whatever security features it chooses to include. Again, beefing up competition levels the playing field for start-ups and small businesses and expands consumer choice. Free enterprise has anchored America’s economic growth and prosperity for generations. Without competition protections that keep industry giants from monopolizing market share and squeezing out competitors, American innovation would wither on the vine. For example, it’s been 100 years since Congress passed the Packers and Stockyards Act to prohibit unfair practices that give undue preferences and advantage. Independent cattle producers get the short end of the stick when enforcement of the law doesn’t have bite behind the bark. The same idea goes for Big Tech. I’m working to enact antitrust legislation so the dominant Big Tech platforms can’t harm competition. Rooting out discriminatory practices will help foster competition that’s good for consumers – more choices in content, services and goods from a variety of providers. At my county meetings one specific issue consistently comes up time and time again. “Why can’t you get along in Washington and work together.” This bill has broad, bicameral support across the ideological spectrum. That meets the Goldilocks standard – it’s not too far left or too far right, and we’re working to achieve consensus. It also meets a rule of thumb I follow in the U.S. Senate. I’ll work with anyone at the policymaking table to solve problems on behalf of Iowans.

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