This week: A tech-focused week in review, big tech testifies at House Antitrust hearing, Senate Commerce holds a hearing on the PACT Act as calls for Section 230 reform grow.

A Technology-Focused Week in Review

Amidst frenzied efforts to enact a COVID-19 relief bill to extend unemployment benefits during global pandemic and address issues such as state and local funding needs, PPE and testing needs nationwide and liability protections for employers, Congress briefly turned its attention to the technology sector.  In two hearings in particular, Congress set its sights on scrutinizing whether this critical sector of our economy has sufficient competition or is dominated by a few key companies and whether statutory protections that have allowed the sector to offer consumers a diverse array of content should remain intact or if they are in need of updating.

The Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held its sixth hearing in its series “Online Platforms and Market Power,” but it was the first time it heard directly from the CEOs of the four largest technology companies: Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook. For more than five hours, the Antitrust Subcommittee members probed questions on the role of these companies in today’s economy and whether they have used their position in the market to further extend their market power. The areas of concern range from online search and advertising, app store policies for developers, and e-commerce. Content moderation focused on political speech and alleged bias against conservative voices was also an issue of debate at the hearing.  The law under which these and other online companies moderate their content, Section 230, was the subject of a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing earlier in the week, in which Chairman Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Schatz (D-HI) heard from expert witnesses on whether Section 230 should be updated to reflect current market conditions.

Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) sent a petition for rulemaking to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking the FCC to seek public comment on rules to constrain the applicability of Section 230. The NTIA petition was prepared pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order issued on May 28, 2020 and seeks the adoption of regulations by the FCC to define certain statutory terms and clarify what practices are outside the scope of Section 230’s liability protections.

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.