BOSTON - Have you seen those TV ads warning that Congress is poised to "break" the popular Amazon Prime two-day delivery service that millions of consumers enjoy?
They're paid for by tech industry groups opposed to a bill called "The American Choice and Innovation Online Act," a sweeping effort to change some controversial practices of the largest tech companies.
But are the ads giving you the straight story? We put them to the Truth Test.
"We've gotta have fair competition in this country," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) at a committee meeting earlier this year where the bill cleared an initial hurdle. She and co-sponsor Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have assembled a bipartisan coalition of support for the measure, which would curb the market power of the world's biggest tech companies - Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook (a.k.a. Meta). It's an idea with popular appeal according to a recent poll of four states, including New Hampshire, that found 79 percent believe these tech giants have too much power, 75 percent believe they abuse that power to reduce competition, and 76 percent support the antitrust bill.
But the industry is fighting back with millions of dollars in TV ads that play on our economic anxiety with the claim that the bill would take away a popular service that got a lot of us through the pandemic. "Washington politicians have a law that could break Amazon's two-day delivery and threaten our fragile economic recovery," one ad says.
Scary! But is it true?
Congressman David Cicciline (D-Rhode Island) is a co-author of the legislation. At a press conference a few weeks back, he said, "This bill will not prevent Amazon from providing free shipping or other services to its Prime members."
That's true, but according to a Klobuchar press release, it would preclude Amazon from requiring a seller to use its fulfillment services, and that could reduce the number of items you can get through Prime.
Cicciline also said the bill "will prohibit Amazon from misleading customers by rigging search results." Also true, and the industry ads don't make the case that nixing favoritism for Amazon's house brands will hurt consumers.
The tech giants have no one to blame but themselves and their predatory business practices for this antitrust bill, and as you can see in that polling, the public seems to agree. But passage is no slam dunk. Big regulatory overhauls by Washington sometimes have unintended economic consequences. And the word out of D.C. is even some supporters of the bill are having qualms about voting on it in an election year at a time of economic turmoil.
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