President Biden signed an executive order regarding antitrust regulations on tech companies on July 9 that received friendly media fanfare. While the narrative touted restrictions on mergers and acquisitions, the order quietly included a provision favored by Big Tech.
The order covered a wide variety of industries in calling for closer regulatory monitoring of ownership transactions. The White House’s press release stated: “Today President Biden is taking decisive action to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, farmers, and small businesses.”
While the order addresses several recommendations to the Federal Communication Commission to become more involved in mergers between internet service providers, it also takes steps to bring back “net neutrality,” which was primarily set aside during the Trump administration.
Net neutrality is generally regarded as the regulatory framework for preventing internet providers from making distinctions among users. For example, internet service providers would be prohibited from charging higher rates to streaming services that use more bandwidth than other users. Big Tech companies like Amazon and Netflix support net neutrality because it would prevent them from being charged based on the capacity they use.
The Washington Free Beacon reported on the signing ceremony for the order by noting the haphazard approach of the Biden administration so far regarding tech regulation. The administration has not filled vital administration positions for antitrust law, and Congress remains stagnant in bringing up regulatory, legislative proposals.
The parts of the executive order addressing tech companies were heavily influenced by Tim Wu, a special advisor to the administration on economic and technology policy. Wu created the term “net neutrality” in 2003 and has been a vocal supporter of the notion ever since.
President Trump’s administration took net neutrality off the table in 2017 over the objections of Big Tech and the major social media companies. These companies, Democratic lawmakers, and the corporate media all warned at the time that internet access companies would immediately restrict access to users and would begin charging exorbitant rates for specific entry and content. Those predictions did not come to pass, as costs to customers have gone down while service speeds have increased.
The executive order comes when Big Tech companies are under greater public scrutiny for censoring content and banning users they disagree with from social media platforms. President Trump announced on July 7 a major class-action lawsuit against social media giants claiming violations of the First Amendment for such actions.