A new proposal from Senator Michael Bennet would effectively put unelected bureaucrats in charge of Big Tech. Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, sees a suggested five-member panel, called the Federal Digital Platform Commission, as a needed brake on the growth and reach of technology companies.

“Although the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have done admirable work to enforce existing antitrust and consumer protection laws, they lack the expert staff, resources, and tech-oriented culture necessary for robust and sustained oversight,” Bennet remarked. “Both bodies to date have acted reactively to challenges raised by Big Tech,...

A new proposal from Senator Michael Bennet would effectively put unelected bureaucrats in charge of Big Tech. Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, sees a suggested five-member panel, called the Federal Digital Platform Commission, as a needed brake on the growth and reach of technology companies.

“Although the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have done admirable work to enforce existing antitrust and consumer protection laws, they lack the expert staff, resources, and tech-oriented culture necessary for robust and sustained oversight,” Bennet remarked. “Both bodies to date have acted reactively to challenges raised by Big Tech, when proactive, long-term rules are needed. ”

Bennet sees the FDPC as necessary to the American economy as other bureaucracies like the Federal Communications Commission, Food & Drug Administration, and Securities and Exchange Commission. Those agencies are known for their neutrality and quick decision-making and have never, ever prolonged or throttled ingenuity or been used as a blunt weapon for political agendas. (Note the sarcasm there.)

Skeptics abound, even among those who believe Big Tech needs more regulatory oversight. “I’m not sure creating a whole new agency is required,” said Joel Thayer, the president of the Digital Progress Institute. His group favors more holistic Big Tech reform: “For one, approaches like Open App Markets Act provides existing agencies…with workable frameworks to target specific markets.”

Thayer, who formerly worked at the FCC, has instead backed Senator Roger Wicker’s PRO SPEECH Act. That bill, according to Thayer, “tethers Big Tech’s section 230 immunities to a public accommodation and filters consumer complaints through the FTC.” He views this as a more suitable framework than Bennet’s. “Any legislation needs to set the right guardrails for the agency. Too broad you risk sweeping in everyone, too limited you don’t achieve the intended goals.”

Others fear that Bennet’s bill will just increase the likelihood of government intervention in situations where none is necessary.

“Remember the net neutrality back and forth?” says Neil Chilson, a senior research fellow for technology and innovation at Stand Together and former FTC chief technologist. “Imagine that policy ping pong but with every controversial issue on the internet. Even worse, this bill would declare certain platforms ‘too big to fail’ and then invite those same platforms to help write the rules governing the internet.”

“The result would be an internet that is comfortable for the big incumbents and indifferent at best to everyone else,” says Chilson.

Chilson suspects that Bennet came up with the Big Tech governing board from former FCC chair Tom Wheeler. Wheeler argues in a paper for the Brookings Institution that the FTC and Justice Department are limited in what they can do because more broad-based rules are needed. He also co-authored a 2020 paper for the Shorenstein Center that called antitrust only a partial solution to what ails Big Tech.

Bennet uses similar language in his bill announcement, saying that “although antitrust and consumer protection laws are essential, they do not capture the broader range of concerns implicated by Big Tech.” Wheeler, unsurprisingly, supports Bennet’s bill.

At the moment, Bennet’s proposal seems like more of a trial balloon to generate discussion. It wouldn’t be surprising, however, if the idea eventually took off a la other proposals like net neutrality.

What we need to remember is how much of a failure these regulatory actions have been. The federal government sliced AT&T to ribbons in 1982 only to see most of them recombine over the years into, you guessed it, AT&T. Those that didn’t rejoin Ma Bell became Verizon and Lumen aka CenturyLink.

Regulatory agencies stifle innovation by moving at a snail’s pace to approve new business rules. New regulatory barriers favor already established businesses while making it harder for smaller ones to thrive, let alone survive. It’s not worth putting an unelected board in charge of Big Tech. All that will do is ensure that Big Tech remains Big Tech. And that’s exactly the kind of market centralization that progressives like Bennet claim to want to combat.