POLITICO Morning Tech: FTC looks to history books to police tech monopolies

September 21, 2022 Media


The FTC is digging deep — The agency is reaching into its toolkit to find ways that would allow it to combat perceived antitrust abuses in everybody from Amazon to insulin makers.

Alvaro Bedoya, the newest member of the five-person commission, will give a speech on Thursday in Minneapolis calling for the agency to revive use of the Robinson-Patman Act, according to two aides for the commissioner.

Robinson who?: The 1936 law was designed to protect small businesses from the then-emerging threat of large retail chains, and bars manufacturers, wholesalers and other suppliers from selling the same goods to different retailers for different prices. However, the FTC has not brought a case under the law in well over 20 years.

Kitchen table issues: Bedoya’s speech on Thursday will be his first on antitrust. Confirmed by the Senate in May, his work has previously focused on privacy and civil liberties. He will focus his remarks on so-called kitchen table issues that affect consumers’ immediate needs like food and medicine, the two aides said.

Lina Khan, the FTC chair, has also called for more enforcement of the law and in June the agency issued a policy statement that it would use the law to target drug rebates made to pharmacy benefit managers, which manage prescription drug benefits for insurance companies.

Tech should worry, too: A resurrected Robinson-Patman Act should also worry companies like Amazon, according to a new report from the American Economic Liberties Project provided exclusively to POLITICO. The group is a key ally of Khan, and a vocal supporter of her work at the FTC, which includes wide-ranging antitrust and consumer protection investigations of Amazon.

According to the report, Amazon, Walmart and other large retailers are able to extract steep discounts from suppliers on a wide array of consumer goods, giving them an anti-competitive advantage over smaller rivals. “If small retailers could get the same prices as large ones, most of the advantages of an Amazon or Walmart would disappear,” the report said. Increased enforcement of the Robinson-Patman Act would level the playing field,” according to the report.