WASHINGTON, DC—Passing bipartisan legislation to curb the dominance of big tech companies seems doomed in the current Congress. That’s what staffers on Capitol Hill, officials at federal antitrust agencies, private lawyers and advocacy groups backing the various bills told me last week during a visit to Washington and New York. They said lawmakers can’t seem to agree on how to adjust antitrust laws to handle Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.
That leaves the antitrust agencies—the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission—as the arbiters of whether to try to break apart the companies by filing federal court lawsuits against them, as well as whether to block or at least slow down any new acquisitions they want to make.
But the FTC has problems. The politically appointed commissioners who run it are likely to be deadlocked on major decisions for several months at least. And a spate of senior staff departures—with many more likely to come—means its new chair Lina Khan may not have enough bodies to tackle her stated goals, including dismantling parts of Amazon, for some time. To manage an expected increase in cases, she’s going to need to hire a lot more like-minded trial lawyers with the experience to stand up in court and win cases.