Durbin Questions Witnesses At Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing On Restoring Competition To Our Digital Markets

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned witnesses during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Protection hearing titled, “Reining in Dominant Digital Platforms:  Restoring Competition to Our Digital Markets.”  Durbin began his questioning by highlighting the challenges Congress faces when trying to keep up with the constant changes of technology. 

“My observation in general is that the pace of change in the digital markets is lightning fast and evolving every day.  My observation based on many decades of working on Capitol Hill is that the response of our government is painfully slow, often understaffed, under informed, and usually sailing against the wind of vested interest.  It doesn’t make a very easy situation for us to respond to in a thoughtful way…I would think as we reflect on the state of the digital market today and wonder how we’re going to solve the problem, if…more people are thinking about ways to avoid any kind of regulation or restraint aren’t going to get the best of us again.   How can we avoid this?” Durbin asked. 

Christopher Lewis, President and CEO of Public Knowledge, agreed with Durbin’s assessment about the challenges Congress faces when trying to keep up with this fast-moving sector.  Mr. Lewis also stated a long-term solution to these challenges could be to empower “a regulator who has the expertise in the technology, like the [Federal Communications Commission] FCC has in telecommunications.”  He also reiterated there needs to be oversight from Congress to ensure consumers are protected online. 

Durbin then asked if FTC has the capacity to regulate these digital markets that are so overwhelming in size.  Amazon commands nearly 40 percent of the e-commerce market in the United States, approximately six times its nearest competitor.  Google controls a staggering 93 percent of the online search market.  Apple holds such a tight grip over the 120 million-plus iPhone users in the United States that app developers have to pay up to a 30 percent commission on app-related sales—and are often barred from even telling users where they can find a better deal.

In response to Durbin’s question, Amanda Lewis, Partner at Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca LLP, who previously worked as an attorney in the Bureau of Competition at FTC, stated “I believe strongly that the FTC and DOJ as they stand today… have the ability to get the expertise that they need to address the problematic conduct in digital markets.”  Despite having the ability, Ms. Lewis continued these enforcers do not have the tools.  She continued to say that two antitrust bills, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) and the Open App Markets Act (OAMA) authored by Senate Judiciary Committee members, are important for FTC to address the abuse of these dominant platforms.

“I think the challenge for us is to make sure there is an agency with the authority and the resources and the political support to get the job done,” Durbin concluded.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.