Ben Thompson, writing last week about the four legislative proposals released by the House Subcommittee on Antitrust:
I don’t think it is an accident that these bills were presented as
a package, but I think it has been a mistake in a lot of coverage
to view the package as one bill. It seems to me that Chairman
Cicilline has played his cards very deftly here: start with the
fact that while every bill was authored by a Democrat, they all
have a Republican co-sponsor; if some combination of these
regulations pass they will likely be with overwhelmingly
Democratic support, but the fact they are starting out as
nominally bi-partisan efforts is savvy.
The real tell about Cicilline’s strategy, though, is the seeming
contradictions between his own bill and that of Representative
Jayapal. Cicilline seeks to restrict platforms from behaving in
non-discriminatory ways, with the threat of break-up if they
don’t, while Jayapal jumps straight to break-up. This strikes me
as an anchoring strategy: Jayapal’s approach is both unworkable
and undesirable — it leaves the FTC and ultimately the courts as
the ultimate arbiter of what is part of a core platform’s offering
and what rests on top, and not only does that evolve as technology
matures, it also makes it impossible to deliver an experience that
is approachable for regular consumers. As I noted above, is a
networking stack part of an operating system? Is a browser? Is an
App Store? Moreover, Jayapal’s bill, if enacted, makes Cicilline’s
bill immaterial: there would be nothing to discriminate against.
That’s why I suspect that Cicilline’s goal is to stake out the
most extreme position — the Jayapal bill — with the goal of
getting his own bill passed as a compromise, perhaps with
Scanlon’s as well.
I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that the Jayapal bill would profoundly change Apple and all of Apple’s products, platforms, and above all, services — in ways that ultimately would be ruinous for the company as we know it. It’s a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” bill that betrays a profound misunderstanding of how platforms evolve. Even if it is just an anchoring strategy to make Cicilline’s own bill look moderate in comparison, Apple should be extremely concerned that Jayapal’s bill is even on the table.