Last June, the House subcommittee overseeing antitrust law issued a comprehensive 450-page report that concluded that four Silicon Valley companies — Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple — are classic monopolies. It was by far the most in-depth and serious governmental attempt in the U.S. to grapple with the unprecedented and increasingly concentrated power of these tech giants.
The report documented the multiple ways that the centralized power and anti-competitive practices of these four tech companies are damaging both consumers and the broader society. It proposed numerous solutions to address those harms — from breaking them up to legislative and regulatory changes to enable more competition. The report narrated that these “companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.” And it concluded that “these firms typically run the marketplace while also competing in it — a position that enables them to write one set of rules for others, while they play by another, or to engage in a form of their own private quasi regulation that is unaccountable to anyone but themselves.”
The report, which came to be known as the Cicilline Report after subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-RI), was widely praised by antitrust activists and scholars. Yet it highlighted a strange political phenomenon. House Republicans have been flamboyantly waving the anti-Big-Tech banner with increasing passion and aggression, often in response to growing online censorship. Virtually every television appearance or in-district rally by a House Republican entails righteous denunciations of Silicon Valley monopoly power. Yet none of the Committee Republicans was willing to sign onto or support the Cicilline report. It was left to Cicilline and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrod Nadler (D-NY) to echo what their Republican colleagues were expressing with words to Fox News audiences or at town halls: “Our investigation leaves no doubt that there is a clear and compelling need for Congress and the antitrust enforcement agencies to take action that restores competition, improves innovation, and safeguards our democracy.”
In sum, there was a huge gap between GOP rhetoric about the evils of Big Tech and the actions of House Republicans, which not only failed to follow through on their fiery language but oftentimes seemed devoted to protecting the interests of the very Silicon Valley giants they were publicly denouncing. But now, one key House Republican — Rep. Ken Buck, who was first elected to represent Colorado’s 4th Congressional District back in 2012, when he ran as a Tea Party conservative, and became a vocal supporter of former President Trump — has changed that dynamic. Using his vital position as ranking member of the subcommittee, Buck has become increasingly outspoken about the need for legislative and regulatory action, rather than just cable-friendly rhetoric, to rein in the abuses of Big Tech, and has been working with a bipartisan coalition he helped assemble to pass consequential legislation.
Among other things, Buck is now a co-sponsor of various legislative measures that would more assertively enforce antitrust laws in order to foster greater competition. He has, as The Denver Post noted last week, been increasingly vocal in his criticism of his GOP colleagues for failing to follow through on what they tell their base. Along with his GOP Senate colleague Mike Lee (R-UT), Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Cicilline, Buck announced last week that this bipartisan group is urging new Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan “to pursue antitrust enforcement action against Facebook.”
The politics of this debate have become fascinating. There are key members in both parties who seem loyally devoted to shielding Facebook, Google and others from any meaningful reform, while an increasingly vocal bipartisan coalition — led by Cicilline and Buck — is clearly serious about using their legislative power to usher in more competition and reform.
I spoke with Rep. Buck earlier today about his trajectory when it comes to fighting Big Tech, why so many Republicans and conservative think tanks remain so captive to Silicon Valley monopolies, and whether the ideological and partisan scrambling visible on this issue is reflective of a broader realignment or at least ideological scrambling that is changing the nature of coalitions on foreign and economic policy as well.
Buck has become one of the most informed and thoughtful Congressional voices on the dangers posed by Silicon Valley, and, as a result, I found our 30-minute discussion quite illuminating. You can watch it on the player below: