Lawmakers argue that big tech stands to benefit from the pandemic and must be regulated

In his opening statements, the chairman of Wednesday’s historic tech hearing argued that regulating tech’s most dominant players is vital in the midst of the ongoing pandemic that has driven even more of American life online.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, these corporations already stood out as titans in our economy,” House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline said. “In the wake of COVID-19, however, they are likely to emerge stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

The argument that tech stands to benefit from the COVID-19 crisis is a smart one — and a timely attack that’s difficult to dispute. While many major companies in other industries are struggling, grappling with layoffs or filing for bankruptcy, many of tech’s largest companies stand to emerge from the economic storm largely unscathed if not better off.

In his own opening remarks, ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner also argued that because Americans are relying more on online companies than ever before, tech’s power must be examined in light of the pandemic.

“That responsibility comes with increased scrutiny of your dominance in the market,” Sensenbrenner said.

It’s not the first warning about tech companies amassing more power in the throes of the coronavirus crisis. A handful of members of Congress have called attention to mergers planned during the pandemic, citing concerns about adequate scrutiny for deals that could make tech’s already huge companies even larger and more dominant.

In April, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed the Pandemic Anti-Monopoly Act, which would freeze mergers during the crisis, calling out big tech specifically. “The LEAST we should do is halt big mergers during COVID to slow the consolidation of sectors,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Cicilline also previously called for a freeze on “mega-mergers” and pushed for such a ban to be included in the economic stimulus package passed by Congress.

“As hard as it is to believe, it is possible that our economy will emerge from this crisis even more concentrated and consolidated than before,” Cicilline said. “As American families shift more of their work, shopping and communication online, these giants stand to profit.”