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High noon for big tech in Washington? | Ticker VIEWS

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While everyone was focusing on the bipartisan deal between President Biden and a group of moderate senators last week, another drama was unfolding on Capitol Hill

Officials in the House Judiciary Committee were working on the most significant move to bring antitrust laws to bear on the most powerful companies in America (and the world) since Microsoft was the target of a move to break its business model 23 years ago.

As the Big Tech companies continue to grow, they face increasing scrutiny over how they operate and whether competition is limited as a result.

Facebook, Google and Amazon in particular have been growing and extending their power and scale. This has lead to questions as to whether these companies are abusing consumers’ rights.

This is one issue that has strong bipartisan support

It has support from Republicans, because Big Tech is seen as pro-left; cancelling out the voices of President Trump and other conservatives. And from Democrats, who fear Big Tech’s rampant concentration of power.

Since President Teddy Roosevelt’s extraordinarily successful crusades a century ago, a fundamental tenet of governance in a democracy is that no company or business interest is more powerful than the rule of law. That authorities can regulate corporate power to serve the public interest.

In US telecoms and tech, AT&T and Microsoft succumbed to this imperative of how capitalism must operate.

The US House Judiciary Committee.

It is this bipartisan cooperation that opened the door to aggressive enforcement activity in Washington

Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission filed landmark antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook.

40 US states have filed similar litigation.  The intent is consistent: break up their business models, introduce more competition, and establish rules to protect consumers.

The House Judiciary Committee last week approved five bills that would prevent Big tech mergers that could eliminate competitors. The Committee passed these bills with bipartisan support.

These bills will be difficult to enact into law, and Republicans in Congress remain divided

Trump supporters do not believe they do anything to stop Big Tech from closing down conservative media platforms. The concern comes after Twitter and Facebook both recently decided to turn off Trump. 

And if these bills do pass the House, successful Senate legislation requires a supermajority (60 votes out of 100 Senators) to pass.

What is most significant, however, is that the action sends a powerful signal that these issues are absolutely legitimate

This will strengthen the hand of both the Federal Commission, now under the new leadership of Lina Khan. It will also allow the Justice Department to litigate antitrust actions, bringing competition and consumer laws to these powerful commercial entities.  

Th Big Tech lobbyists can slow down how far Congress will go.  But not the landmark lawsuits managed by President Biden’s Executive Branch.

Read more by Bruce Wolpe here

Bruce Wolpe is a Ticker News US political contributor. He’s a Senior Fellow at the US Studies Centre and has worked with Democrats in Congress during President Barack Obama's first term, and on the staff of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He has also served as the former PM's chief of staff.

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EU plans to force USB-C chargers for all phones

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EU plans to make USB-C connectors the standard port for all smartphones and tablets, angering Apple

The European Commission rules to force manufacturers to create a universal charging solution for phones and small electronic devices. The European Commission is aiming to have a common charging port for all mobile phones, tablets, cameras, headphones, and handheld videogame consoles.

The ruling has been in the making for a decade, with environmental concerns the main driving force behind the historic move.

Reducing waste

The rule will reduce waste by encouraging consumers to re-use existing chargers when buying a new device. Politicians have been pushing for this uni9versal charging rule for over a decade.

Disposed and unused charging cables generate approximately 11,000 tonnes of waste per year.  Research shows the average person owns around three mobile phone chargers.

A decade ago there were about 30 different types of chargers, now, phones use either USB-C, lightning, and USB micro-B.

Rotten Apple

The move would see all smartphones in the EU sold with the same charger, a motion Apple is not happy about. The tech giant says this move would damage ongoing innovation.

The tech giant is the main manufacturer of smartphones using a custom charging port, as its iPhone series uses an Apple-made “Lightning” connector. Apple argues its Lightning connector is used by one billion active iPhone users.

“We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world,”

Apple spokesperson

The proposed changes would apply to the charging port on the device body and will also standardise charging speeds. It may be a number of years before the proposals come into effect.

It will be thoroughly debated by the European Parliament and national Governments.

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Business

Trade war fires up as U.S companies pass tariffs onto consumers

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Japan Exports

The trade war between the United States and China is continuing to heat up, but this hasn’t stopped American businesses from leaving the Chinese mainland

This all follows the US implementing tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese consumer products in a bid to bring manufacturing back to American shores.

A new report has found this is hurting the US economy and has not been successful in pressuring China to change any of its economic policies.

Meanwhile, businesses based in either China and America have remained “deeply integrated” with the other… with foreign investment into China hitting a record high of US$144.4 billion in 2020.

This comes as Joe Biden moves to review US policy towards China, including the previous policies of Donald Trump.

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Business

Energy prices soar for Europeans as winter chill approaches

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There are growing concerns for European residents as energy prices continue to skyrocket in the lead-up to winter

The wholesale prices of natural gas in Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Italy have reached record highs, with overall household bills now through the roof.

This all comes as the continent braces for a cold winter and fuel is needed for increased electricity generation.

Meanwhile, the Europen Consumer Organisation warns it has seen a huge price increase… saying “It’s worrying ahead of the winter when gas consumption will necessarily increase.”

This latest price hike is being caused by a number of factors… including a depletion of natural gas stockpiles during a cold spring and a growing demand for gas in China.

Russia is also supplying less gas to the market than it ever has before.

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