LEGAL/POLICY

FTC Gets Started On Biden’s Competition Wish List

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The US Federal Trade Commission voted on Wednesday to follow up on President Joe Biden’s competition executive order with a vote that will make it a priority to address the issue of manufacturers pushing consumers to use licensed dealers for repairs of smartphones to farm equipment.

Like the right-to-repair issue, virtually every one of the dozens of items on the White House antitrust to-do list has a long history, whether it be complaints by industry stakeholders or consumer advocates.

Right To Repair: Biden’s executive order encourages the FTC to create rules that stop companies from barring consumers from fixing their own products or taking them to an independent repair shop. Manufacturers from a broad swath of industries have balked at making their products easy to fix, without, in some cases, voiding a warranty. Some of the companies involved have argued that their intellectual property could be put at risk.

Undo Consummated Mergers: The executive order says the United States may challenge transactions that violate antitrust law, citing instances in which “decades of industry consolidation have often led to excessive market concentration.” The Federal Trade Commission, in its lawsuit against Facebook Inc, asked the court to order the social media giant to do just that – sell Instagram and WhatsApp. In 2013, the Justice Department sued ratings platform Bazaarvoice, demanding it sell rival PowerReviews, which it had purchased. The government won and the deal was undone.

Net Neutrality: The phrase, coined years ago by Biden’s special assistant for technology and competition policy Tim Wu, means that internet service providers must treat all communications the same. The Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission created net neutrality rules in 2015 to ban ISPs from prioritizing content. President Donald Trump’s FCC repealed them. Biden’s executive order pushes for the re-adoption of net neutrality rules.

Non-Compete Agreements: Non-compete agreements, or contracts with employers that say an employee will not work for a rival, have traditionally been used to protect trade secrets or confidential business information, like what a client pays for a service. But they have spread to the point where roughly half of businesses require at least some workers to sign non-compete agreements, the White House has said. Most opponents want the agreements banned for most low-wage positions or jobs that do not involve confidential information or extensive training.

Pharmaceuticals: Brand-name pharmaceutical companies have a variety of strategies aimed at keeping lower-priced generics off the market, many involving what opponents consider abuse of the patent system or government approval processes. The FTC has fought some of these strategies, like when a brand name companies pays a generic maker to delay entering the market, with mixed success. Bills are before the House and Senate aimed at tackling high and rising prices for medicines.

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