As part of their effort to recast their party platform in preparation for the 2018 mid-term elections, Congressional Democrats announced an economic agenda that would impose strict new standards on major telecommunications, cable and other industry mergers, which Democrats cite as a factor behind rising prices, lack of competition, and reduced consumer choice. Alongside other Democratic leaders, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) unveiled the new economic agenda known as A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future at an event in Berryville, Virginia on Monday. In a press release, the Democratic Party outlined the following goals for the Better Deal agenda: (1) an increase in wages and incomes for American workers, (2) a reduction in the cost of living for American families, and (3) the establishment of economic conditions that would give "working Americans the tools to succeed in the 21st Century." To achieve such economic conditions, the party pledges to "make it a national priority to bring high-speed Internet to every corner of America," as evidenced by the blueprint--laid out by Senate Democrats in response to the Trump Administration's $1 trillion national infrastructure proposal--which recommends $20 billion in federal funding for rural broadband networks.
In furtherance of the aforementioned goals, the Better Deal agenda also includes a plan to "prevent big mergers that would harm consumers, workers and competition." While the Better Deal agenda would impact large corporate mergers in a variety of economic sectors, Schumer spotlighted recent merger activity among telecommunications and cable firms in lamenting that "nothing bothers average folks more than the cable bill . . . that just keeps going up because there are so few competitors in the industry." As Schumer maintained that current antitrust laws "are designed to allow huge corporations to merge," the Better Deal plan declares it "too easy for companies to unfairly harm competition by merging" because "antitrust regulators and other federal oversight authorities can only consider the narrow, short-term effects of a merger on price and output, and have the burden of proving that consolidation would be anti-competitive."
The new merger standards proposed by the Better Deal agenda would shift the burden of proof from regulators to participants in large corporate deals, which would be presumed to be anticompetitive unless the merger parties can prove that the proposed market concentration would benefit the public. Explaining that the proposed merger standards "require a broader, long-term view and strong presumption that market concentration can result in anticompetitive conduct," the Better Deal agenda asserts that such standards "will ensure that regulators carefully scrutinize whether mergers reduce wages, cut jobs, lower product quality, limit access to services, stifle innovation, or hinder the ability of small businesses and entrepreneurs to compete." The agenda further emphasizes that, "in an increasingly data-driven society, merger standards must explicitly consider the ways in which control of consumer data can be used to stifle competition, or jeopardize consumer privacy." Accordingly, by requiring large companies to justify the benefits of their mergers, the Better Deal plan predicts: "we will not only prevent harmful concentration, we will also incentivize companies to be better corporate citizens."
Post-merger activity and compliance with merger conditions would also be subject to increased scrutiny under the Better Deal agenda. Observing that "today's regulators have limited ability and resources to monitor whether [merger] conditions are being met after the deals are completed," and arguing that "economic circumstances that may have made a merger competitive at the time it was reviewed can quickly shift," the agenda proposes to require "frequent, independent reviews of mergers and ensur[e] additional resources are available to conduct the reviews." Along that vein, the agenda calls for the appointment of an independent competition advocate who would "research current market activity, receive consumer complaints, and proactively recommend competition investigations to the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice."