Abipartisan coalition of lawmakers made it known on Capitol Hill on Wednesday that if Congress does not pass their bill aimed at cracking down on the power of internet behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google, the U.S. could face serious national security challenges.
"If we don't have competition in the digital marketplace, we run the risk of damaging our economy in the long term, but also our national security, because some of our adversaries are doing a lot of innovation," Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island said in response to a question from Newsweek.
"This is the heartbeat of the American economy, innovation," Cicilline added. "The single most powerful driver of innovation is competition. It's almost completely absent in the digital marketplace."
According to a report released in December by Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, China has emerged as a serious competitor in "foundational technologies of the 21st century," with current trajectories predicting it could overtake the U.S. in the next decade.
To inspire greater innovation in the sector, Cicilline has joined Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Republican Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado in authoring the American Innovation and Choice Online Act.
The bill would require large online platforms, like those mentioned above, to cease the practice of preferencing their own products and services to users over those offered by smaller companies that conduct business on their sites.
It would also ensure that vendors are able to use operating systems, hardware, or software that differs from the online platform's products, and would also restrict the platforms' use of nonpublic data that is obtained from businesses operating on those sites.
"Wesley Clark, retired four star general, former NATO supreme allied commander, said that the bill is in fact a boost to national security," Klobuchar said. "I think it's very important to look at the facts instead of throwing every piece of mud against the bill that we're seeing from the tech companies."
The Computer and Communications Industry Association — of which Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google are members — spent $22 million in ads over the week of May 23, advertising intelligence firm AdImpact reports. Klobuchar said the ads target the proposed bill, while Cicilline said big tech has spread "lies" to confuse voters about its contents.
Regardless of the effectiveness of this recent ad campaign, Americans have been developing a distrust of big tech over some time.
A Morning Consult poll from February found that 67% of Americans believe that the benefits big tech companies offer their customers are no longer an acceptable trade-off for the industry's growing power. Between December of 2019 and February of 2022, the percent of Americans who felt government must do more to regulate tech increased from 29% to 38%.
"It's common sense that revitalizing competition benefits consumers," Grassley said. "Protecting the status quo allows them to extend their dominant gatekeeper roles, which of course undermines the competitive market system."
The bill's central focus of cracking down on big tech's market dominance in the name of increased competition has proven to be a popular one in Congress.
Prominent names from both sides of the aisle, including Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.) as well as Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) have all thrown their weight behind the bill as co-sponsors.
According to Klobuchar, Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has promised a vote on the bill by "early summer." Buck said that he hopes this bill receives a vote by the end of this month. After over a year of work on the bill, he said it's time legislators prove that "Congress works" by finally putting the measure to the test.
"I should be here with my colleagues from the Senate and House announcing that the bill has passed, that the president is ready to sign, that we are a safer country, that we are more competitive with China, that small business people have the opportunity to compete in this country," Buck said. "But I'm not."
"This bill has to pass," he added. "We have to be able to tell the American people that Congress works, that we are working on their behalf, and that we care about them."