Presidential ordinance for more competition and for a “right to repair”

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On Friday afternoon, US President Joe Biden presented a presidential decree in the White House for more competition and against increasing market concentration in many industries. Central measures against Big Tech are the stricter control of buy-ups by competitors and the curbing of anti-competitive practices against smaller sellers. The Federal Trade Commission is to enact new rules against the accumulation of data on consumers and these are to be given the right to repair their cell phones and tractors themselves – a challenge to “surveillance capitalism”.

The increasing market concentration in the health sector, in the banking sector, in agriculture or the provider market makes many products more expensive for citizens. It increases the pressure on wage developments to the detriment of workers and curbs innovation, argues the Biden government based on numerous studies, including the 450-page congressional pavement on the practices of the large platforms. In three quarters of all industries, a smaller number of companies control the market today than 20 years ago, according to the information sheet on the regulation. The trade margins have tripled, at the same time wages have fallen by 17 percent and the number of start-ups has halved compared to the 1970s (see graphic).

Biden said at the signing that he was a proud capitalist. But capitalism without competition degenerates into exploitation. With the regulation calls on a dozen US federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to rigorously enforce existing competition and antitrust rules. The White House will also set up a Competition Council.

Biden has a total of 72 individual orders. They range from parallel imports of cheaper versions of prescription drugs from Canada to improved relocation rights for bank customers to support for small farmer markets and requirements for the correct labeling of meat products to support small farmers.

In the area of ​​Internet service providers, for example, Biden decreed that consumers should not choose their network provider through deals between network providers and housing associations. Shorter notice periods and price transparency are to be imposed on providers. The Federal Communication Commission instructed Biden to reinstate the net neutrality regulations that Trump had abolished.

In the “Technology” chapter, the prevention of kill purchases is on the agenda, that is, acquisitions and closures of young companies by the big ones, who thus keep competition at bay. The practice, which was carefully scrutinized at the congress hearing of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, in which the platforms outmaneuver small providers on their platforms by copying their offers, is also to be stopped. Two specific work orders for the FTC in Biden’s arrangement are the creation of new provisions against the “obstruction to having mobile devices repaired by third parties” and new FTC rules against the monitoring and data collection practices of the platforms.

In order to underline the concerted action in the area of ​​competition policy, FTC boss Lina Khan announced shortly after the signing that her authority would subject the currently applicable guidelines on merger control to a tough review. “We have to ensure that merger control is adapted to current market realities and practical findings and that company acquisitions are controlled with the skepticism required by the law,” said the FTC boss loudly Press release. According to observers, stricter FTC guidelines on merger control could also postpone the currently rather hesitant ruling practice of the courts, as they are also based on such guidelines.

US media have already called Biden’s competition regulation historic. But the US-American Facebook critic Roger Mc Namee spoke to heise online of a highly welcome, but at best a first step that would have to be followed by others if one wanted to turn the wheel of platform concentration.

The regulation aimed at competition must be underpinned by legal regulations, said Mc Namee, because the regulation could be repealed by future administrations. In addition, laws in the area of ​​security and liability of the platforms for damage caused, for example through a new regulation and data protection, are urgently needed.

“We are still a long way from such laws,” said Mc Namee. First legislative advances in the area of ​​competition against the big tech platforms would have blocked Democratic MPs from California. Mc Namee calls the argument of job losses absurd, because the split of AT&T created the telephone market and later the Internet. The competition verdict against Microsoft brought about Google. “The breaking up of monopolies has historically created more and more jobs.” But you are dealing with a powerful opponent, according to Mc Namee.


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