This afternoon, President Biden signed a landmark executive order aimed at promoting economic competition by limiting the power of large corporations. The sweeping executive order includes 72 initiatives across more than a dozen federal agencies, and will impact nearly every sector of the economy, from railroads and pharmaceutical companies to social media platforms and broadband service providers.
One particular action that will impact many industries is an order to make it easier for workers to change jobs by banning or limiting non-compete clauses and “unnecessary, cumbersome occupational licensing requirements.” The FTC also is directed to limit employers’ ability to share information that could be used to suppress wages or employee benefits.
In addition, President Biden is calling on the DOJ and FTC to aggressively enforce existing antitrust laws, particularly those involving mergers between large corporations, with a specific focus on the tech sector. The order aims to crack down on what it calls “killer acquisitions,” in which tech sector titans acquire smaller companies in order to eliminate a potential competitor.
The Order also states that the FTC should establish rules governing tech companies’ collection and use of personal consumer data. In addition, the Order directs the FTC “to establish rules barring unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces,” aimed at preventing Big Tech from harvesting information from smaller companies, then using that information for their own competitive advantage.
Broadband competition is another area singled out in the Order. As part of the Order, the Biden Administration formally calls for the FCC to restore Net Neutrality rules established under the Obama Administration. Such rules prevent internet service providers from deliberately slowing or blocking online services.
The Administration encourages the FCC to prevent internet service providers from deals with landlords that limit a tenant’s broadband options. The Order additionally calls for the revival of the “Broadband Nutrition Label,” which is designed to give consumers an apples-to-apples comparison of internet service options, as well as limiting high termination fees for internet service plans.
Other specific actions outlined in the Order include:
- Encouraging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to “issue rules allowing customers to download their banking data and take it with them.”
- Requiring airlines to provide greater transparency about fees—as well as refunds when service is subpar or flights become delayed.
- Granting farmers and ranchers greater ability to challenge competition-limiting practices by large agribusinesses.
- Supporting programs that allow pharmaceutical imports from Canada, a move aimed at lowering consumer prescription drug prices.
- Barring tech companies from imposing restrictions on third-party cell phone repairs.
The Order calls for the creation of a White House Competition Council to monitor federal agencies’ progress toward meeting these goals.
Obviously, the Executive Order is an important first step, but much remains to be seen in terms of how federal agencies will implement these initiatives, the timetable for implementation, and how much input the impacted industries will have on the final rules. Company leaders should work closely with legal counsel to stay informed about new developments related to this Executive Order.