Press Release Platform Competition

Public Knowledge Competition Policy Director Charlotte Slaiman to Testify Before House Judiciary on How Interoperability Can Rein In Big Tech

February 25, 2021 , , , ,

Public Knowledge Competition Policy Director Charlotte Slaiman will testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law this Thursday, Feb. 25 at 10:00 a.m. Her testimony in the hearing on “Reviving Competition, Part 1: Proposals to Address Gatekeeper Power and Lower Barriers to Entry Online” will argue for new laws and rules, like interoperability, to combat the power of Big Tech.

The hearing marks the first in a series on bolstering competition in digital markets and follows the House Judiciary’s staff report on a year-long bipartisan investigation into competition problems in Big Tech, as well as a string of lawsuits alleging antitrust violations against Google and Facebook.

The following is an excerpt from the testimony:

“Competition is often the best way to make companies pay attention to what the people want. When companies face few competitors and are protected by high barriers to entry, they find they can ignore the interests of their customers and business partners. That’s when public interest advocates, antitrust enforcers, regulators, and Members of Congress must start paying close attention. The world we live in today, where a single company can dominate search, shopping, or social networking, is not inevitable. It is, instead, the result of our policy choices. We chose through our inaction to let this happen, but it’s not too late to make a different choice.

“This hearing rightly zeroes in on the concept of gatekeeper power. Gatekeeper power, sometimes called ‘bottleneck’ power or ‘strategic market status,’ is the special power that the platforms have over businesses and consumers that rely on them to reach each other. [A recent report] explains that firms have bottleneck power when ‘consumers primarily single-home and rely upon a single service provider, which makes obtaining access to those consumers for the relevant activity by other service providers prohibitively costly.’ [A] U.K. report prioritizes regulating firms with strategic market status when a firm is in ‘a position of control over other parties’ market access.’ This power is the root of the problem.

“A gatekeeper uses this power to benefit itself to the detriment of competition as a whole. Of course a gatekeeper can impose contract terms — like high prices or unfair data access requirements — on businesses that can only access consumers through their gate. Even more concerning, though, is that gatekeepers can also use their gatekeeper power to protect themselves from potential competitive threats. They can outright block would-be rivals, like startups, from getting off the ground or ensure that existing competitors can’t come close.

“Digital gatekeepers control increasingly important parts of our economy and of our very lives. These gatekeepers grow unabated as they remain protected from competition by high barriers to entry. Policy choices have allowed this to continue for far too long. Now, Congress has the opportunity to act. Pro-competition tools examined by this subcommittee such as interoperability can wrest control from these gatekeepers and put it back where it belongs — in the hands of the people.

“If we want true competition against digital platforms like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple, [then] we need to change the structure of these markets so that one or a few firms can’t maintain this gatekeeper power at the public’s expense. [W]e need to break open the gates.”

You may view the testimony for more details. You may also view our latest blog post, “Why We Can’t Be Friends: We Need Interoperability in Digital Markets,” for more information on interoperability.