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President Biden is ready to unveil a new plan on Friday aimed at powerful industries where a handful of players have so much market power that they can raise prices, lower wages and make it difficult for small businesses to break into.
His competition notice contains directives for a dozen government agencies to take 72 measures – some large, some small – to shake up important markets for consumers, workers, farmers and small businesses, White House officials told NPR. They spoke on condition of anonymity prior to Biden’s announcement.
The White House is just getting started on what it hopes will be a new era of antitrust law enforcement, where mergers are more often challenged and unfair practices are cracked down on, officials said.
News of some of the measures taken earlier in the week, including a plan to curb the use of non-compete agreements and parry unnecessary licensing requirements for jobs.
The executive order also includes plans to allow hearing aids to be sold over-the-counter at pharmacies and make it easier for people to repair their phones or other equipment themselves, according to information seen by NPR prior to the announcement.
A continuation of the efforts under Obama
Some of the rules continue where competition attorneys in the Obama administration escaped.
“We started this effort in our last year, and it took a while to figure out what we wanted to do, and then it takes a long time to write a rule or to make sure you enforce a rule,” Jason said. Furman. , who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama White House.
“We got off to a good start, but it was only a start,” said Furman, now a professor of economic policy at Harvard. “What’s really important here is that President Biden is doing this in his first year.”
Big Tech will face more control
Some of the most far-reaching measures are aimed at the technology sector. The White House wants the Obama-era rules of net neutrality restored – measures that prevent ISPs from reducing their service.
Other measures would make it easier to compare the prices of internet services, ban steep bills for early termination and prevent landlords from having exclusive agreements with providers.
The White House is expected to signal that it will investigate mergers in the technology sector, especially as incumbents acquire new competitors and offerings that affect consumers’ privacy and their data.
Details and enforcement of many of these directives will come to the Federal Trade Commission, now headed by Lina Khan, a high-profile critic of major technology companies.
But the White House will also urge the FTC to focus on competition in the healthcare sector, including a ban on agreements where drug manufacturers pay to delay the release of generic drugs.
Small and medium-sized initiatives can add up
Biden will also set up a new White House Competition Council to track progress with the 72 ideas and come up with new measures to add to the list.
The systematic approach should pay dividends, Furman said. He explained that a number of small and medium-sized initiatives can add big changes.
For example, he said that hearing aids – an expensive market dominated by a few players – are an area ripe for competition. The Obama administration tried to make it possible to buy more types of hearing aids at pharmacies like reading glasses rather than treating them like expensive medical devices.
“It will not change our economy,” Furman said, “but for many people it will save them thousands of dollars. And that’s the kind of action you want to take again and again.”