The Truth About the ACCESS Act

In last week’s Myth Buster piece we promised to follow up if we saw misinformation spreading about what the HJC antitrust bills do in reality. This week’s post is about the misinformation campaign from Big Tech’s tasseled-loafer lobbyists about the HJC’s ACCESS Act which creates pro-consumer, pro-competitive data portability and interoperability mandates.

First, a word or two about data portability and interoperability. It’s no secret that in digital markets data is a significant entry barrier for startups.  Google, Facebook and the other Big Tech platforms have built enormous data profiles of each American over the years. Think about it: most of us have been in a 20+ year relationship with Google.  Like the company’s former-CEO Eric Schmidt infamously said in 2010, “we know where you are, we know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you are thinking about.”  That was 10 years ago.  Imagine what they know about us now, more than 10 years later?  The sheer volume of data platforms that have Google-level control creates two marketplace problems.  First, the data barrier makes it extremely difficult for startups to compete with the Big Tech platforms, even though they may have built a far superior mousetrap.  Second, it makes it excessively burdensome and unwieldy for consumers to switch from Big Tech to the new startup because it’s a struggle for them to take their data with them when they switch.

The recently introduced ACCESS Act solves both these problems for American consumers.  It is based on the popular cell phone number portability option consumers already enjoy today.  That option stems from an overwhelmingly bipartisan act that Congress passed in 1996, legislation that  both Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole supported. (Recall that Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House in 1996, so he would have signed off on number portability).  The 1996 legislation handed off the details of number portability to the Clinton FCC and the plan worked well. Today, number portability is still considered a big win for consumers because it spurs competition between plan providers and this leads to lower prices for consumers.  

The ACCESS Act follows on the success of number portability.  Under the legislation, consumers would be empowered to move their data away from Big Tech platforms if they want to. The legislation also creates some interoperability mandates freeing up data transfer between Big Tech platforms and their competitors (to the extent they still have competitors).

For conservatives, this is sound tech policy.  It gives ordinary Americans control over our data where today we have very little.  This may not give us the ownership rights of our data many conservatives argue we should have, but it’s a start.  Second, data portability allows increased competition for Big Tech.  For conservatives, this is a win and you don’t need us to tell you why.  For years now, Big Tech has arrogantly ignored Michael Jordan’s “Republicans buy sneakers, too” advice and the sooner Big Tech platforms have meaningful competition, the better for conservatives.  Freeing up competition for Big Tech will also free up our speech in the marketplace for ideas. So don’t let Big Tech’s tasseled-loafer lobbyists tell you that antitrust legislation does nothing for conservative speech: by freeing up competition and allowing conservatives to move their data elsewhere, this is exactly what the ACCESS Act does.

The bill’s opponents will tell you that conservatives should oppose the ACCESS Act because it empowers FTC bureaucrats and sets up ‘secret committees.’  A couple of questions come to mind.  Are the tasseled-loafer lobbyists and their allies seriously suggesting we shouldn’t trust the FTC with overseeing data portability and we should take Facebook’s word for this? The same Facebook that was fined $5 billion by the bipartisan FTC for massive data privacy violations just two years ago? Or should we look to the successful number portability operation at the bipartisan FCC as the template? After all, that’s what Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole did back in 1996 when they handed off number portability to the Clinton-run FCC.  Thankfully for American consumers, political leaders had common sense 25 years ago and American consumers were the beneficiaries of this common sense. Let’s hope today’s House Republican leaders can display the same wisdom instead of regurgitating talking points from some of the most woke and aggressively progressive companies in the country.