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Competition

A Tale of Two Realities -- DOJ versus AT&T-Time Warner Merger

Sometimes it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.

That may be the case with the outlook for the DOJ v. AT&T-Time Warner case.

In this analysis, rather than recount the legal antitrust “trees” that have been well-argued in the DOJ’s complaint brief and AT&T-Time Warner’s defense brief, and the rule of law “tree” I analyzed initially, it is important to focus on how this case is highly-unusual in one characteristic, and that characteristic begs us to try and examine the forest not the trees.

What is highly-unusual about this precedent-driven case is the Judge, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard J. Leon.

Net Neutrality’s Masters of Misdirection

On net neutrality, we have all been tricked by the masters of misdirection.

For many years Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the Internet Association have deftly misdirected the media’s and government’s attention away from their unaccountable market power, discriminatory models and practices, and real consumer protection problems, towards the potential for discrimination by legacy-regulated, competitive, broadband providers.

The masterful misdirection becomes painfully obvious when one looks at the facts.

First, it’s the supposedly “competitive” Internet “edge” that is hyper-dominant and hyper-concentrated, and it is America’s broadband industry that is the most competitive in the world.

Implications of DOJ’s Potential Challenge of the AT&T Time Warner Merger

While I agree with the economic liberty, principled approach of limited government and a reduction in regulation that DOJ Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, explained in his remarks before the ABA’s Antitrust forum today, I also believe in the equally important economic liberty principles of equal protection under the law and due process. Both are important to fair and equal antitrust administration of Justice in a free market.

Since the DOJ apparently is telegraphing its intention to file suit to block the AT&T-Time-Warner merger, because it reportedly prefers structural remedies over behavioral remedies, I appreciate that for the DOJ to prevail in court, it must operate a fair merger review process, and prove its case on the merits in a court of law.  

In the specific case of the AT&T-Time-Warner merger, which was considered in 2016 and announced October 22, 2016, the companies evaluated the merger based on the known, long-standing, consistent, vertical-integration, legal precedents at that time and that today remain the operative legal antitrust precedents in court.

Google Amazon & Facebook are Standard Monopoly Distribution Networks

 

Washington increasingly is asking what are Google, Amazon, and Facebook?

That’s because they seem to be in the middle of many vexing problems spanning culture, politics, civility, economics, competition, jobs, investment, national security, public safety, consumer welfare, etc.

At core, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are unregulated, economy-wide, distribution networks, that de facto are taking control over core economic processes.

They are modern-day Standard Oils. Google is Standard Data. Amazon is Standard Commerce. Facebook is Standard Social.

Doubt it? Consider reality.

Standard Data: Alphabet-Google is the distribution network for over 4 billion search users, 2 billion Android devices, 15 million publisher partners, 5 million advertiser clients, and 400,000 Android developers. Google’s network has over 200 data-capturing products and services, 15 of the world’s fastest, highest-capacity data centers, and 2000 server points of presence in over 150 countries.

Google commands 19 of the top 25 Android apps downloaded over a billion times including: Search, Play, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, Google+, Text-to-Speech, Chrome, Play Books, Play Games, Play Music, Play Newsstand, Play Movies & TV, Drive, Photos, and StreetView.

Google’s Government Influence Nixed Competition for Winner-Take All Results

Facts are stubborn things.

Know what one finds when one puts the evidence of Google’s many antitrust, IP, and privacy offenses into one telling timeline of what Google did from 2008-2017?

One sees a tale of two terms. Commendably, the evidence shows the first Obama Administration term featured very tough antitrust, IP, and privacy law enforcement against Google. Sadly, the second term was the direct opposite – featuring virtually no antitrust, IP, or privacy law enforcement against Google.

Know what one finds when one overlays the telling timeline of improper influence of Google’s Government Guardians, i.e. senior Google executives and outside counsels placed in all the right places to protect and advance Google’s business -- with the timeline of Google’s antitrust, IP, and privacy law enforcement problems?

One can see predictable patterns. Shortly after Google Guardians show up, those Google’s government problems go away. Same administration, different personnel, near completely opposite outcomes. It’s a quintessential example of the old Washington adage that “personnel is policy.”

Asymmetric Absurdity in Communications Law & Regulation

You can’t make this stuff up.

Asymmetric Realities: The five most valuable companies – Apple $802b, Alphabet-Google $688b, Microsoft $585b, Facebook $500b, and Amazon $475b – are together worth an unprecedented $3 trillion and widely-appreciated to be dominant in the communications-driven businesses of smartphones, search advertising, subscription business productivity software, social advertising, and ecommerce platform services respectively.

In Washington’s theater of the absurd, these well-known, winner-take-all platforms, are playing the role of victims of potential harms, that supposedly can’t afford to shoulder the potential risks for the potential net neutrality problems that they allege are potentially serious, when they produce $131b annually in free cash flow and have $357b in cash (mostly overseas).

Debunking Edge Competition Myth Predicate in FCC Title II Broadband Order – FCC Comments

SUMMARY:

In 2015, the FCC’s Title II Open Internet broadband order was predicated on a demonstrably false central competitive premise: that the Internet’s edge was competitive while the broadband Internet core was not competitive. The facts prove the opposite.

The 2015 FCC’s competition premise is myth.

While there is plenty of information in the record, and in the July 17 comments, that broadband is  competitive, until now there has been little data and research on the overall competitiveness of the Internet edge providers, save for NetCompetition’s July 17th comments that showed how concentrated the Internet edge is using the Internet Association as a proxy.

To further rebut comments that were predicated on the demonstrably false central premise that the Internet’s edge is competitive, NetCompetition submits additional Internet competition research below.

Why Amazon and Google Are Two Peas from the Same Monopolist Pod

Summary: Amazon’s monopolization ambitions, strategies, and tying tactics are eerily like Google’s.  Both these companies likely have not earned their respective dominances purely on merit, but also via illegal anti-competitive behaviors.

At a minimum, Amazon’s proposed acquisition of WholeFoods warrants an FTC “second request” for information, i.e. a fuller antitrust investigation of whether the acquisition could “substantially lessen competition” in any implicated relevant markets.

The Internet Association Proves Extreme U.S. Internet Market Concentration

Those who think the U.S. Internet market is competitive, and not extremely concentrated, need to read on.

In a nutshell, for the first time, publicly available evidence shows that the cumulative effect of well-known “winner-take-all” platforms (WTAPs) Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft, is a “four-winners-take-all Internet sector.” Four different dominant platforms collectively command ~80% of overall Internet market share in revenues, new absolute annual revenues generated, market capitalization, and employees.

Imagine if the 94% of the economy that is offline-based, were as extremely concentrated as the 6% of the economy that is online-based/the Internet sector, per the Internet Association.

That would be an offline economy with basically one information company, one sharing company, one retailer, and one business software company, that collectively commanded 80% revenue share of the 94% of the economy that is offline based with ~4,000 publicly traded companies.

Trump Administration Implications for Google Antitrust in EU, US & Markets

Conclusions:

Most of what we have learned in the five months since the election indicates that the Trump Administration is not going to be Google’s antitrust advocate and protector like the Obama Administration effectively was from 2013-2016, in de facto shutting down any real U.S. antitrust scrutiny of Google, and in turn implicitly discouraging antitrust enforcement of Google in the EU and around the world.  

This antitrust enforcement sea change has three big picture implications: for the EU, for the U.S., and for markets.

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Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths