Today, Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the Digital Platform Commission Act, legislation to create an expert federal agency to provide comprehensive regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and safeguard the public interest. Amid calls for regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) and social media, the senators propose a new Federal Digital Platform Commission with the mandate, jurisdiction, and tools to develop and enforce rules for a sector that has gone largely unregulated.
“Big Tech has enormous influence on every aspect of our society, from the way we work and the media we consume to our mental health and wellbeing. For far too long, these companies have largely escaped regulatory scrutiny, but that can’t continue. It’s time to establish an independent agency to provide comprehensive oversight of social media companies. I’m proud to join Sen. Bennet to introduce this important and much-needed legislation,” said Welch.
“There’s no reason that the biggest tech companies on Earth should face less regulation than Colorado’s small businesses – especially as we see technology corrode our democracy and harm our kids’ mental health with virtually no oversight,” said Bennet. “Technology is moving quicker than Congress could ever hope to keep up with. We need an expert federal agency that can stand up for the American people and ensure AI tools and digital platforms operate in the public interest.”
The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are largely responsible for oversight of digital platforms. Beyond enforcing existing antitrust and consumer protection laws, however, these agencies lack the expert staff and resources necessary for robust oversight. Both are also limited by existing statutes to react to case-specific challenges raised by digital platforms, when proactive, long-term rules for the sector are required.
Welch’s and Bennet’s bill follows a long history of Congress establishing expert, sector-specific federal bodies to oversee complex sectors of the economy—from the creation of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906 following Upton Sinclair’s reporting in The Jungle of abhorrent conditions in the meatpacking industry, to the creation of the Federal Communications Commission in 1934 to match the growing importance of telecommunications, to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
“We can no longer be observers as digital technology companies ranging from social media to artificial intelligence make their own rules without any oversight to protect the public interest. At the same time, such oversight must be nimble enough to promote innovation and investment. The Bennet-Welch Digital Platform Commission Act recognizes both these challenges by creating a new federal agency utilizing new, more agile procedures to protect consumers while promoting digital innovation,” said Tom Wheeler, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“Digital platforms have become a vital part of our economy, our democracy, and our lives. Despite their critical importance, we have virtually no rules to make sure these platforms treat people fairly. As a result, we have a handful of companies that utterly dominate our online lives in ways we can’t even begin to understand – let alone hold accountable when they inflict harm on consumers. Senators Bennet and Welch’s bill is the first bill that proposes a consumer-centered approach that would put a full-time ‘cop on the beat’ to make sure that online platforms treat people fairly and follow the law. The Federal Digital Platform Commission would be empowered to shine a bright light on these businesses so that the public can hold them accountable and protect the public interest. Public Knowledge is pleased to endorse this important bill,” said Harold Feld, Senior Vice President, Public Knowledge.
“Senators Bennet and Welch’s bill provides a comprehensive approach to improving the performance of the digital platforms that have become central to American life. It will preserve the undoubted value that the platforms provide while discouraging their misuse, including importantly misuse involving artificial intelligence. In its respect for the First Amendment and freedom of expression, it is a badly needed American response to problems that were not foreseen in the early days of the internet, but that now have become sufficiently widespread that they demand urgent attention,” said Phil Verveer, Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School (speaking in a personal capacity).
“Aligning our rapidly changing digital landscape with public interest requires immediate and long-term action. The Digital Platform Commission Act will help ensure that we are acting strategically in the long term,” said the Center for Humane Technology.
“The Digital Platform Commission Act is a welcome step toward consolidating regulatory oversight of digital companies in a single independent agency. It will supplement the efforts of existing competition and consumer protection agencies to fully address the nation’s digital challenges. The DPCA specifically authorizes the new digital commission to promote competition in digital markets and protect users from abuse by digital platforms. It will have the resources and the mandate to work with the industry and civil society to put in place sector-specific rules aimed at the unique risks arising from the power of dominant digital platforms,” said Mark MacCarthy, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University, Communication, Culture & Technology Program and Senior Fellow, Institute for Technology Law and Policy at Georgetown Law.
“Senator Bennet and Welch’s Digital Platform Commission Act fills a large gap in current law, creating a framework to spur immediate competition in digital markets alongside existing antitrust enforcement. It brings relief to small businesses and consumers from harms caused by dominant digital platforms while enabling those platforms to innovate and adapt to new market conditions in an environment of regulatory certainty. Among other features of the law, it empowers the new federal body to require dominant platforms to allow data portability and interoperability, while subjecting their algorithms to oversight to ensure they are not biased or harmful to users,” said Fiona Scott Morton, Theodore Nierenberg Professor of Economics, Yale School of Management.
“Stronger oversight institutions, such as the commission proposed in the Digital Platform Commission Act of 2023, have the potential to strengthen the government’s capacity to promote safe, just, and innovative digital products. This type of new Digital Platform Commission could also conduct and fund needed research on the power of digital platforms, on the design of better products and systems, and on the impact of technology regulation,” said Dr. Scott Babwah Brennen, Head of Online Expression Policy at the Center on Technology Policy, UNC-Chapel Hill (speaking in a personal capacity).