Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
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Viamedia sued Comcast under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, for using its monopoly power in one service market (Interconnect) to exclude competition and gain monopoly power in another service market (advertising representation) in the Chicago, Detroit, and Hartford geographic markets. Interconnect services are cooperative selling arrangements for advertising through an “Interconnect” that enables retail cable television service providers to sell advertising targeted efficiently at regional audiences. Advertising representation services assist those providers with the sale and delivery of national, regional, and local advertising slots. Viamedia’s evidence indicated Comcast used its monopoly power over the Interconnect to force its smaller retail cable television competitors to stop doing business with Viamedia; Viamedia’s customers for advertising representation (Comcast’s retail cable competitors) switched to Comcast because Comcast presented a choice: either start buying advertising representation services from us and regain access to the Interconnect or keep buying services from Viamedia and stay cut off from the Interconnect they needed to compete effectively. The strategy cost Comcast millions of dollars in the short run but eventually gave it monopoly power in these local markets for advertising representation services.The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Viamedia’s case. Giving Viamedia the benefit of its allegations and evidence, this is not a case in which Section 2 is being misused to protect weaker competitors rather than competition more generally. Viamedia has also adequately stated a claim that Comcast has unlawfully refused to deal with Viamedia and any cable competitor that bought advertising representation from Viamedia. View "Viamedia, Inc. v. Comcast Corp." on Justia Law

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In 2005 Paramount leased a parcel of highway-adjacent property in Bellwood, Illinois, planning to erect a billboard. Paramount never applied for a local permit. When Bellwood enacted a ban on new billboard permits in 2009, Paramount lost the opportunity to build its sign. Paramount later sought to take advantage of an exception to the ban for village-owned property, offering to lease a different parcel of highway-adjacent property directly from Bellwood. Bellwood accepted an offer from Image, one of Paramount’s competitors. Paramount sued Bellwood and Image, alleging First Amendment, equal-protection, due-process, Sherman Act, and state-law violations. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Paramount lost its lease while the suit was pending, which mooted its claim for injunctive relief from the sign ban. The claim for damages was time-barred, except for an alleged equal-protection violation. That claim failed because Paramount was not similarly situated to Image; Paramount offered Bellwood $1,140,000 in increasing installments over 40 years while Image offered a lump sum of $800,000. Bellwood and Image are immune from Paramount’s antitrust claims. The court did not consider whether a market-participant exception to that immunity exists because Paramount failed to support its antitrust claims. View "Paramount Media Group, Inc. v. Village of Bellwood" on Justia Law

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In an action filed by the government to enjoin the vertical merger between AT&T and Time Warner under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, the DC Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the government's request for a permanent injunction. At issue on appeal was the district court's findings on its increased leverage theory whereby costs for Turner Broadcasting System's content would increase after the merger, principally through threats of long-term "blackouts" during affiliate negotiations.The court held that the government failed to clear the first hurdle in meeting its burden of showing that the proposed merger was likely to increase Turner Broadcasting's bargaining leverage. Furthermore, the government's objections that the district court misunderstood and misapplied economic principles and clearly erred in rejecting the quantitative model were unpersuasive. In this case, the government offered no comparable analysis of data for prior vertical mergers in the industry that showed "no statistically significant effect on content prices" as defendants had. Additionally, the government's expert opinion and modeling predicting such increases failed to take into account Turner Broadcasting System's post-litigation irrevocable offers of no-blackout arbitration agreements, which a government expert acknowledged would require a new model. The court also held that the evidence indicated that the industry had become dynamic in recent years with the emergence of distributors of only on-demand content, such as Netflix and Hulu. View "United States v. AT&T, Inc." on Justia Law

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The en banc court affirmed the district court's denial of AT&T Mobility's motion to dismiss an action brought by the FTC alleging that AT&T's data-throttling plan was unfair and deceptive.After determining that the district court had federal question jurisdiction, the en banc court held that the Federal Trade Commission Act's, 15 U.S.C. 45(a)(1), (2), common-carrier exemption was activity-based, and therefore the phrase "common carriers subject to the Acts to regulate commerce" provided immunity from FTC regulation only to the extent that a common carrier was engaging in common carrier services. The en banc court also held that the FCC's order reclassifying mobile data service did not rob the FTC of its jurisdiction or authority over conduct occurring before the order. View "FTC V. AT&T Mobility, LLC" on Justia Law

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Cox Cable subscribers cannot access premium cable services unless they also rent a set-top box from Cox. A class of plaintiffs in Oklahoma City sued Cox under antitrust laws, alleging Cox had illegally tied cable services to set-top-box rentals in violation of section 1 of the Sherman Act, which prohibits illegal restraints of trade. Though a jury found that Plaintiffs had proved the necessary elements to establish a tying arrangement, the district court disagreed. In granting Cox’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) motion, the court determined that Plaintiffs had offered insufficient evidence for a jury to find that Cox’s tying arrangement "foreclosed a substantial volume of commerce in Oklahoma City to other sellers or potential sellers of set-top boxes in the market for set- top boxes." After careful consideration, the Tenth Circuit ultimately agreed with the district court and affirmed. View "Healy v. Cox Communications" on Justia Law

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Time Warner filed suit alleging a violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1 et seq., in the tying of certain premium cable television services to the leasing of ʺinteractiveʺ set‐top cable boxes. The district court dismissed two iterations of the complaint, including the Third Amended Complaint, the operative complaint for the purposes of this opinion. The court held that the Third Amended Complaint fails to adequately plead facts that, if proven, would establish that:  (i) the set‐top cable boxes and the premium programming they transmit are separate products for the purposes of antitrust law; and (ii) Time Warner possesses sufficient market power in the relevant markets to establish an illegal tie‐in. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "In re Set-Top Cable Television Box Antitrust Litig." on Justia Law

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The FTC filed suit against AT&T under section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTA), 15 U.S.C. 45(a), taking issue with the adequacy of AT&T’s disclosures regarding its data throttling program. The district court denied AT&T's motion to dismiss and rejected it's view of the common carrier exemption. The court concluded, however, that the common carrier exemption in section 5 of the FTC Act carves out a group of entities based on their status as common carriers. Those entities are not covered by section 5 even as to non-common carrier activities. Because AT&T was a common carrier, it cannot be liable for the violations alleged by the FTC. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "FTC v. AT&T Mobility" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Andrew Alwert and Stanley Feldman brought putative class actions against Cox Communications, Inc. (Cox) claiming that Cox violated antitrust law by tying its premium cable service to rental of a set-top box. The district court granted Cox’s motions to compel arbitration, then certified the orders compelling arbitration for interlocutory appeal. The Tenth Circuit granted Plaintiffs permission to appeal. They argued that the arbitration order was improper because: (1) the dispute was not within the scope of the arbitration agreement; (2) Cox waived its right to invoke arbitration; and (3) Cox’s promise to arbitrate was illusory, so the arbitration agreement was unenforceable. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, holding that the arbitration clause in Plaintiffs’ subscriber agreements with Cox covered the underlying litigation and that Cox did not waive its right to arbitration. The Court did not resolve Plaintiffs’ argument that Cox’s promises were illusory because the argument amounted to a challenge to the contract as a whole, which was a question to be decided in arbitration. View "Alwert v. Cox Enterprises" on Justia Law

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An Automated Maritime Telecommunications System (AMTS) is a U.S. communication service between land and vessels in navigable waterways, existing on specific broadcast frequencies. Advances in technology have greatly expanded the potential uses of AMTSs. Under the original site-based system, small geographic regions were defined by location and the waterway served and the FCC provided licenses at no cost to the first applicant. In 2000, the FCC stopped issuing site-based licenses and began issuing licenses by competitive bidding; it divided the U.S. into 10 regions and, at public auctions, sold “geographic” licenses for two blocks of AMTS frequencies in each region. Although geographic licensees may generally place stations anywhere within their region, they may not interfere with the functioning of existing site-based stations, so the location of a site-based station creates a gap in a geographic licensee’s coverage area. Plaintiffs obtained geographic licenses in areas overlaying pre-existing site-based licenses. Site-based operators refused to provide plaintiffs with the operating contours for their site-based locations within plaintiffs’ geographic locations. Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging violation of the Federal Communications Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the FCA claims and a determination that no antitrust conspiracy existed. Plaintiffs did not identify particular actions that were determined by the FCC to be unreasonable or unjust and, therefore, do not possess a private right of action. View "Havens v. Mobex Network Servs., LLC" on Justia Law

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An Automated Maritime Telecommunications System (AMTS) is a U.S. communication service between land and vessels in navigable waterways, existing on specific broadcast frequencies. Advances in technology have greatly expanded the potential uses of AMTSs. Under the original site-based system, small geographic regions were defined by location and the waterway served and the FCC provided licenses at no cost to the first applicant. In 2000, the FCC stopped issuing site-based licenses and began issuing licenses by competitive bidding; it divided the U.S. into 10 regions and, at public auctions, sold “geographic” licenses for two blocks of AMTS frequencies in each region. Although geographic licensees may generally place stations anywhere within their region, they may not interfere with the functioning of existing site-based stations, so the location of a site-based station creates a gap in a geographic licensee’s coverage area. Plaintiffs obtained geographic licenses in areas overlaying pre-existing site-based licenses. Site-based operators refused to provide plaintiffs with the operating contours for their site-based locations within plaintiffs’ geographic locations. Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging violation of the Federal Communications Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the FCA claims and a determination that no antitrust conspiracy existed. Plaintiffs did not identify particular actions that were determined by the FCC to be unreasonable or unjust and, therefore, do not possess a private right of action. View "Havens v. Mobex Network Servs., LLC" on Justia Law