The movement to get the FCC to restore net neutrality just gained some serious traction. The White House just announced that president Joe Biden will be signing a new executive order today that will establish a “whole-of-government effort to promote competition in the American economy.” In other words, it’s targeting anticompetitive practices across a wide range of industries, including internet services and tech.
The order contains 72 proposals and actions, among which it specifically says “the President encourages the FCC to restore Net Neutrality rules undone by the prior administration.” It also asked the agency to consider limiting early termination fees and prevent internet service providers from making deals with landlords that limit tenant choices. In addition, it urged the FCC to revive the Broadband Nutrition Label that was developed under the Obama administration that would offer greater price transparency.
The order also looked at how “dominant tech firms are undermining competition and reducing innovation,” and announced an administration policy of greater scrutiny of mergers. It would focus on “dominant internet platforms,” especially around “the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by “free” products, and the effect on user privacy.”
As part of its crackdown on Big Tech, the order called on the Federal Trade Commission to “establish rules on surveillance and the accumulation of data,” along with banning “unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces” and “anticompetitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or doing DIY repairs of your own devices and equipment.”
In other industries, like banking and personal finance, the order similarly asked for more robust scrutiny of mergers. It also urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to “issue rules allowing customers to download their banking data and take it with them.”
Similar notions of price transparency, consumer rights, increased scrutiny of mergers and prevention of excessive fees were prevalent across the other industries covered. Under agriculture, for example, the order also highlighted the need to give consumers the right to repair their tractors and equipment.
Proposals for the healthcare sector include allowing for hearing aids to be sold over the counter, supporting price transparency rules, preventing surprise hospital billing and standardizing plan options in the National Health Insurance Marketplace for easier comparison shopping. In the transportation section, airlines were the focus of the suggestions. The order called for rules around greater transparency and disclosure over baggage, change and cancellation fees, as well as better guidelines on when a company must issue refunds over delayed baggage or non-working services (like in-flight WiFi or entertainment).
After the order is signed later today, the administration will have plenty of work to do to get these initiatives moving. It’s not a guarantee that all the suggestions announced here will eventually happen, but it’s a clear sign that the Biden team is paying attention to the issues of anticompetition, a lack of transparency in multiple industries and other unfair practices.
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