June 2012

Count me among those who are rolling their eyes as the Department of Justice initiates an investigation into whether cable companies are using data caps to strong-arm so-called “over-the-top” on-demand video providers like Netflix, Walmart’s Vudu and Amazon.com and YouTube.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that DoJ investigators “are taking a particularly close look at the data caps that pay-TV providers like Comcast and AT&T Inc. have used to deal with surging video traffic on the Internet. The companies say the limits are needed to stop heavy users from overwhelming their networks.”

Internet video providers like Netflix have expressed concern that the limits are aimed at stopping consumers from dropping cable television and switching to online video providers. They also worry that cable companies will give priority to their own online video offerings on their networks to stop subscribers from leaving.

Here are five reasons why the current anticompetitive sturm und drang is an absurd waste of time and might end up leading to more harm than good.

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This morning, the Secretary-General of the ITU, Hamadoun Touré, [gave a speech at the WCIT Council Working Group](http://www.itu.int/en/osg/speeches/Pages/2012-06-20.aspx) meeting in Geneva in which he said,

> It has come as a surprise — and I have to say as a great disappointment — to see that some of those who have had access to proposals presented to this working group have gone on to publicly mis-state or distort them in public forums, sometimes to the point of caricature.

> These distortions and mis-statements could be found plausible by credulous members of the public, and could even be used to influence national parliaments, given that the documents themselves are not officially available — in spite of recent developments, **including the leaking of Document TD 64.**

> As many of you surely know, a group of civil society organizations has written to me to request public access to the proposals under discussion.

> **I would therefore be grateful if you could consider this matter carefully, as I intend to make a recommendation to the forthcoming session of Council regarding open access to these documents, and in particular future versions of TD 64.**

> I would also be grateful if you would consider the opportunity of conducting an open consultation regarding the ITRs. I also intend to make a recommendation to Council in this regard as well.
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By Geoffrey Manne and Berin Szoka

Everyone loves to hate record labels. For years, copyright-bashers have ranted about the “Big Labels” trying to thwart new models for distributing music in terms that would make JFK assassination conspiracy theorists blush. Now they’ve turned their sites on the pending merger between Universal Music Group and EMI, insisting the deal would be bad for consumers. There’s even a Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing tomorrow, led by Senator Herb “Big is Bad” Kohl.

But this is a merger users of Spotify, Apple’s iTunes and the wide range of other digital services ought to love. UMG has done more than any other label to support the growth of such services, cutting licensing deals with hundreds of distribution outlets—often well before other labels. Piracy has been a significant concern for the industry, and UMG seems to recognize that only “easy” can compete with “free.” The company has embraced the reality that music distribution paradigms are changing rapidly to keep up with consumer demand. So why are groups like Public Knowledge opposing the merger?

Critics contend that the merger will elevate UMG’s already substantial market share and “give it the power to distort or even determine the fate of digital distribution models.” For these critics, the only record labels that matter are the four majors, and four is simply better than three. But this assessment hews to the outmoded, “big is bad” structural analysis that has been consistently demolished by economists since the 1970s. Instead, the relevant touchstone for all merger analysis is whether the merger would give the merged firm a new incentive and ability to engage in anticompetitive conduct. But there’s nothing UMG can do with EMI’s catalogue under its control that it can’t do now. If anything, UMG’s ownership of EMI should accelerate the availability of digitally distributed music.

To see why this is so, consider what digital distributors—whether of the pay-as-you-go, iTunes type, or the all-you-can-eat, Spotify type—most want: Access to as much music as possible on terms on par with those of other distribution channels. For the all-you-can-eat distributors this is a sine qua non: their business models depend on being able to distribute as close as possible to all the music every potential customer could want. But given UMG’s current catalogue, it already has the ability, if it wanted to exercise it, to extract monopoly profits from these distributors, as they simply can’t offer a viable product without UMG’s catalogue. Continue reading →