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Antitrust optimism is waning

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today we explore the fate of Klobuchar’s antitrust bill, which could be on its last legs. Also, Congress will soon consider the crypto-friendly Responsible Financial Innovation Act, and the EU agreed to mandate USB-C charging ports for all mobile electronics, which will be a huge pain for Apple.

Antitrust's feeble optimism

Yesterday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar tried to strike an optimistic note on the fate of the long-awaited American Innovation and Choice Online Act. “I believe we’re going to pass this,” she said of the bill, which aims to prevent Big Tech platforms from giving preference to their own products. Klobuchar also reiterated Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s promise to put the “strongly bipartisan bill” to a vote by early summer.

So what still needs to happen for the bill to pass? It already went through House and Senate subcommittees, so the next step would be for Schumer to call a floor vote. In February, the White House came out in support of the congressional antitrust push, so President Biden would sign the bill into law — if it gets that far.

Big Tech is doubling down on efforts to kill the bill, and that hasn’t escaped Klobuchar’s notice. Despite insisting that the bill will pass, Klobuchar acknowledged that her camp faces unprecedented resistance from the Big Tech lobby.

  • “I have never seen anything like this,” she said. “They are bullies. They’re making stuff up — making things up left and right that aren’t true.”
  • This came in response to host Joe Scarborough referencing the anti-antitrust advertising campaign, which he called “outright propaganda.” Klobuchar said firms spent $21 million in ad-buy against the bill just in the past week. Earlier reports showed the Amazon- and Alphabet-backed Computer and Communications Industry Association allocated $8.4 million for TV ads targeting midterm swing states such as Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.
  • The antitrust advocates are severely outmatched when it comes to legal resourcing. Klobuchar said the tech firms have hired “thousands of lawyers and lobbyists,” as compared to the two lawyers on her team.

Big Tech’s efforts are apparently working — Democrats just won’t publicly admit it.

  • Behind closed doors, Democratic senators have complained to Schumer that forcing an early summer antitrust vote would reduce their chances in midterms, according to POLITICO reporting from May.
  • If the votes aren’t there, Schumer would likely decline to bring the bill to the floor. That would help Democrats save face, at least relative to publicly voting against an antitrust bill that has been a pillar of their agenda for years.
  • It would also almost certainly doom the bill. Democrats are projected to lose big in midterms, so “delaying” a vote really means giving up.

The Jan. 6 House committee hearings might be the final nail in the coffin. Would it be nice if D.C. could walk and chew gum at the same time? Of course. But if we’re being honest, that’s not always how things work on the Hill. The Jan. 6 committee hearings will be a media circus, drawing a lot of media attention away from the antitrust bill. The literal “prime time” event kicks off tomorrow and could go all the way until November. It’s supposed to rally support for Democrats ahead of midterms; ironically, it could just make those reelection efforts more difficult by taking away what was supposed to be the signature legislative win for the term.

— Hirsh Chitkara (email | twitter)

In Washington

The Responsible Financial Innovation Act could be a big win for the crypto lobby. The bill, introduced by Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand, provides a regulatory framework for crypto, which in some cases entails crypto not being subject to securities regulations at all. It would let the Commodity Futures Trading Commission play a significant regulatory role, drawing some power away from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has made an enemy of the crypto sector under Chairman Gary Gensler.

President Biden gave Southeast Asian solar suppliers two-year immunity from new tariffs through an emergency order on Monday. Since March, the Commerce Department has been investigating those suppliers for their alleged ties to China. The investigation came at the behest of California-based manufacturer Auxin Solar, which alleged 70% of that solar equipment value ultimately flowed back to China. Democrats sent the White House a letter in May condemning the investigation for jeopardizing solar installation goals.

The SEC is reportedly launching an investigation into Binance’s 2017 coin offering. The probe would seek to determine whether the company engaged in a security sale through the launch of the BNB token.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office launched an accelerated patent program to help grow the ecosystem of innovative climate technologies. The U.K., Australia, South Korea and Canada previously operated similar programs. While patents generally help private companies attract VC funding, some IP experts told Protocol the program would have a limited overall impact.


At the same time that the pandemic demonstrated all that is possible in an interconnected world, we saw in new and increasingly stark ways how certain communities continue to be marginalized and harmed by a persistent digital divide and how effectively that divide exacerbates our society’s other inequities.

Learn more

On Protocol

Nothing has materialized from Twitter’s internal investigation of its world leader moderation policy more than a year after the company promised to reevaluate it in the wake of President Trump’s ban. The company released a survey that gathered some 49,000 responses. A Twitter spokesperson told Protocol that the company was still distilling the survey results and weighing possible next steps.

U.S. statehouses are considering more than 160 crypto-related bills as they look to fill in the gaps of federal legislation that isn’t likely to arrive this year.

Around the world

EU officials are reportedly considering cloud services sanctions against Russia. It’s unclear what impact such sanctions would have since the three most dominant cloud providers are based in the U.S.

Australian antitrust authorities sued Airbnb for misleading customers on the price of visits. The commission said Airbnb advertised and charged customers in U.S. dollars, even though many customers believed they were paying in Australian dollars.

TSMC said it has no immediate plans to build a chipmaking facility in Europe, despite the EU’s best efforts to onshore domestic production.

In the media, culture and metaverse

The Texas attorney general launched an investigation into Twitter for potentially providing misleading numbers on bots to boost revenue. The investigation neatly coincides with Elon Musk’s apparent efforts to squirm out of the Twitter acquisition deal. Finance and securities law experts told Protocol that Musk lacks a legal argument to back out of the deal. Under the terms of the merger agreement, he’d need to pay Twitter a $1 billion penalty if it falls through.

Apple is breaking into the “buy now, pay later” industry. On Monday, the company announced an Apple Pay feature that allows users to pay for purchases in four installments over six weeks. We wrote last week about the industry stumbling its way into major regulatory scrutiny. Even aside from that, the BNPL competition will likely want to ensure Apple doesn’t give itself exclusive access to that digital payments real estate — and that could mean going to the courts.

Apple also announced the next generation of CarPlay, which is, in a word, giant. The mock-up display seemingly occupies several feet of the dashboard. That sparked a viral tweet response that asked why regulators weren’t stepping in to regulate vehicle screen usage to keep drivers’ attention on the road.

In the C-suite

“Being public is definitely an invitation to pain,” Elon Musk told SpaceX employees at an all-hands meeting. Anyone working at the SEC would likely enthusiastically agree, at least when it comes to Musk. He guessed that a potential spin-off IPO for Starlink would come three or four years from now.

“Political polarization is another big one — how can we work in a common way across humanity and minimize wars and violence,” Bill Gates told PC Magazine in an interview published June 2, when asked about the greatest technological challenges of the next 40 years. Immediately after that statement, however, Gates qualified the response by adding, “There’s not a tech tool that can solve that, but the way we’re interconnected and interact with each other is so tied to how information flows around the world.”

Russia retaliated against U.S. sanctions by adding CEOs including Netflix’s Reed Hastings and BlackRock’s Larry Fink to a “stop list” that prevents them from traveling to Russia.

In data

100% productivity: That’s the promise U.K. workers are making as they participate in one of the most significant trials of the four-day workweek. About 3,300 employees across 70 companies will participate in the six-month trial program, which seeks to measure the effects of a four-day workweek on productivity, worker well-being, gender equality and the environment.


There is so much more we need to do to make sure our future is more equitable and inclusive and maximizes America’s potential. It is not enough just to ensure everyone is connected. We also need to extend the full scope of digital opportunity to the people, the communities, and the institutions.

Learn more

Bon voyage, Lightning cable!

European Union Parliament and Council negotiators agreed to mandate all mobile electronic devices adopt USB-C cables by autumn 2024. The decision had been a long time coming, but for Apple, it means there’s officially a lot of work to be done. The ruling applies to smartphones, earbuds, keyboards, computer mice and laptops — translated to Apple, that means iPhones, Airpods, MacBook Pros and computer accessories will all need to have their ports swapped. Talk about a manufacturing headache. The bigger question: Will it be worth holding onto the proprietary charging systems outside of Europe, or will other markets see the switch too?

Thanks for reading — see you Friday!

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