Biden’s pick for antitrust justice wins Senate approval

Biden’s pick for antitrust justice wins Senate approval

Washington President Joe Biden’s selection to lead competition law enforcement in the Justice Department has been approved by the Senate as his administration seeks action against the huge market power it has condemned in many industries, including big tech, health care, airlines and agriculture.

Tuesday’s bipartisan vote was 68-29 to confirm Jonathan Kanter, an antitrust attorney who has opposed the tech giants in private practice, as the assistant attorney general who heads the Justice Department’s antitrust division. The position has been without a permanent president for nearly a year as Biden and his advisers vetted a number of qualified candidates and then nominated Kanter in July to face Senate scrutiny.

Kanter, who also has government experience at the Federal Trade Commission, will join the team of competition regulators and advisors that Biden has assembled to implement the antitrust agenda. They include senior tech critic Lena Khan, who in June Biden elevated to chair the Federal Trade Commission, and Tim Wu, another outspoken critic of Big Tech, a top White House adviser on technology and competition policy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an independent regulatory agency, oversees consumer protection and privacy as well as competition issues.

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As part of efforts to increase competition, protect consumers, and reduce corporate dominance, Biden has ordered regulators to give more scrutiny to mergers.

At the confirmation hearing last month, Kanter promised strict enforcement to ensure a level playing field for businesses and consumers. He said he was a staunch advocate of “strong antitrust enforcement in technology, among other things.”

As head of the antitrust division, Kanter will likely direct the prosecution in a landmark case against Google that Trump’s Justice Department brought in October 2020, accusing the company of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising. Kanter represents smaller companies that have competed with Google and made complaints about the search giant’s behavior.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is pursuing an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, now called Meta, asserting that the tech giant has a monopoly on the social networking market. The agency is looking for solutions that could include the forced split of the company’s popular messaging services on Instagram and WhatsApp, or a comprehensive restructuring.

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Kanter, like Khan, will deal with competition issues in industries and companies outside Big Tech. But it was the tech giants – Google, Meta, Amazon and Apple – and their market dominance that attracted the greatest public interest, the most epic legal action and the sharpest rhetoric from lawmakers.

In a significant antitrust measure, the Justice Department this month filed a lawsuit to block the proposed $2.2 billion acquisition of Simon & Schuster by German media giant Bertelsmann’s Penguin Random House, already the largest book publisher in the United States. Regulators said industry consolidation would hurt authors, and ultimately readers, giving Penguin Random House a “significant influence” over books published in the United States and the amount that authors charge.

The company wants to buy Simon & Schuster, whose co-authors include Stephen King, Hillary Clinton and John Irving, from television and film company ViacomCBS.

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The so-called Big Five book publishers, with the largest Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster at number four, control an estimated 80% of the book market in the United States.

In another action this fall, the Department of Justice challenged American Airlines’ partnership with JetBlue, asserting that it could bring in higher airfares.

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