Cicilline Remarks at the UBS European Virtual Conference

Nov 11, 2020 Issues: Consumer Protection and Financial Reform

PAWTUCKET – Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (RI-01) delivered the remarks below today at the UBS European Virtual Conference.

David N. Cicilline
UBS European Virtual Conference
November 10, 2020

Thank you very much for that kind introduction, Charles. It is a pleasure to join you for today’s virtual conference. I know we all wish that we could have met in person, but I am glad that we are able to have this important conversation, even if virtually.

As Charles mentioned, as the Chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, I have led a comprehensive, bipartisan investigation into the state of competition online over the past year and a half.

One of our main goals of this top-to-bottom review was to really roll up our sleeves and understand how these markets work. It has been decades since Congress conducted an antitrust investigation. And many of the markets we investigated were highly technical, dynamic, and complex, so we wanted to be sure to get it right by having as thorough and inclusive a process as possible as this work was long overdue.

As part of this process, we collected a significant volume of evidence during the investigation, including tens of millions of pages of documents, interviews with nearly 250 market participants, and dozens of hearings and roundtables with leading experts.

Last month, we released a 450-page report with our findings and recommendations. We found that Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple each serve as a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution in the digital economy.

The evidence we reviewed showed that by controlling access to certain markets, these companies can pick the winners and losers throughout the economy. Not only are they dominant, but the evidence showed they abuse their dominance in two key ways—by exploiting firms that rely on their platforms and excluding rivals.

This has real consequence on businesses that operate online, and whether these markets are open and fair, or increasingly controlled by just a few dominant firms.

The evidence we gathered and reviewed during the investigation showed that each of these companies uses its gatekeeper power to further entrench its dominance. Their position in the market allows them to spy on businesses that use their platform. And they can use this data to acquire potential competitors, copy features and services, and cut off rivals.

For example, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said that the purpose of acquiring Instagram was to neutralize a competitive threat and to essentially buy time before another competitor sprouted up, rather than to improve its offerings or build new products. Facebook’s senior executives, meanwhile, openly discussed the company’s acquisition strategy as a “land grab” to “shore up” Facebook’s position.

These dominant firms are also able to abuse their gatekeeper position to enter into and dominate other lines of business, including through a playbook of wide-ranging anticompetitive conduct, such as self-preferencing, tying together products and services, and more. 

Although there are some differences in the recommendations proposed in our Report and by some of my Republican colleagues, there is widespread agreement on the facts. We agree that Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple each possess and have abused their monopoly power, in ways that have harmed competition and consumers.

Looking forward, the Report includes a menu of recommendations for Congress and the antitrust enforcers at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Our recommendations are deeply rooted in the facts. We need to respond to the factual record by addressing the dominance and anti-competitive conduct that we uncovered.

These recommendations include steps to restore competition to the digital markets by addressing the incentives and ability of dominant platforms to abuse their gatekeeper power. They include structural separations and prohibitions on certain dominant firms operating in adjacent lines of business, prohibitions on platforms engaging in self-preferencing, and requirements relating to interoperability and data portability.

We also recommend strengthening the antitrust laws. Statutory reforms include updating Section 7 of the Clayton Act by strengthening the merger enforcement laws to favor competition over consolidation.

Updating Section 2 of the Sherman Act to prohibit abuses of dominance and clarify prohibitions on anti-competitive and harmful conduct. And strengthening overall antitrust enforcement by overriding court decisions that have strayed from Congress’ original intent that the antitrust laws establish a presumption in favor of competition and against monopoly.

Last, we recommend institutional reforms to revive antitrust enforcement by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission and eliminating barriers to private enforcement of the antitrust laws.

Our next steps will be to consider legislation in line with the recommendations laid out in the Report. We will continue that work through the lame duck and into the next Congress. Our Report and recommendations will be the center of gravity for our agenda to reinvigorate the antitrust laws and antitrust enforcement.

Like our investigation, I expect that process to be bipartisan. As I mentioned before, there is widespread agreement across the Subcommittee that Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple possess and have abused their monopoly power.

Now that we have identified the problem, it’s critical that we use all the tools Congress has—including legislating, granting rulemaking authority, and conducting oversight—to start solving this problem for the American people.

Thank you again for having me as part of today’s conversation.