[Cross-Posted at Truthonthemarket.com]
The big merger news is that AT&T is planning to acquire T-Mobile. From the AT&T press release:
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Deutsche Telekom AG (FWB: DTE) today announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which AT&T will acquire T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom in a cash-and-stock transaction currently valued at approximately $39 billion. The agreement has been approved by the Boards of Directors of both companies.
AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile USA provides an optimal combination of network assets to add capacity sooner than any alternative, and it provides an opportunity to improve network quality in the near term for both companies’ customers. In addition, it provides a fast, efficient and certain solution to the impending exhaustion of wireless spectrum in some markets, which limits both companies’ ability to meet the ongoing explosive demand for mobile broadband.
With this transaction, AT&T commits to a significant expansion of robust 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) deployment to 95 percent of the U.S. population to reach an additional 46.5 million Americans beyond current plans – including rural communities and small towns. This helps achieve the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and President Obama’s goals to connect “every part of America to the digital age.” T-Mobile USA does not have a clear path to delivering LTE.
As the press release suggests, the potential efficiencies of the deal lie in relieving spectrum exhaustion in some markets as well as 4G LTE. AT&T President Ralph De La Vega, in an interview, described the potential gains as follows:
The first thing is, this deal alleviates the impending spectrum exhaust challenges that both companies face. By combining the spectrum holdings that we have, which are complementary, it really helps both companies. Second, just like we did with the old AT&T Wireless merger, when we combine both networks what we are going to have is more network capacity and better quality as the density of the network grid increases.In major urban areas, whether Washington, D.C., New York or San Francisco, by combining the networks we actually have a denser grid. We have more cell sites per grid, which allows us to have a better capacity in the network and better quality. It’s really going to be something that customers in both networks are going to notice.
The third point is that AT&T is going to commit to expand LTE to cover 95 percent of the U.S. population.
T-Mobile didn’t have a clear path to LTE, so their 34 million customers now get the advantage of having the greatest and latest technology available to them, whereas before that wasn’t clear. It also allows us to deliver that to 46.5 million more Americans than we have in our current plans. This is going to take LTE not just to major cities but to rural America.
Continue reading →
[Cross-posted at Truth on the Market]
Antitrust investigators continue to see smoke rising around Apple and the App Store. From the WSJ:
For starters, subscriptions must be sold through Apple’s App Store. For instance, a magazine that wants to publish its content on an iPad cannot include a link in an iPad app that would direct readers to buy subscriptions through the magazine’s website. Apple earns a 30% share of any subscription sold through its App Store. …
A federal official confirmed to The Washington Post that the government is looking at Apple’s subscription service terms for potential antitrust issues but said there is no formal investigation. Speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, the official said that the government routinely tracks new commercial initiatives influencing markets.
Investigators certainly suspect Apple of myriad antitrust violations; there is even some absurd talk about breaking up Apple. There is definitely smoke — but is there fire?
The most often discussed bar to an antitrust action against Apple is the one many regulators simply assume into existence: Apple must have market power in an antitrust-relevant market. While Apple’s share of the smartphone market is only 16% or so, its share of the tablet computing market is much larger. The WSJ, for example, reports that Apple accounts for about three-fourths of tablet computer sales. I’ve noted before in the smartphone context that this requirement should not be consider a bar to FTC suit, given the availability of Section 5; however, as the WSJ explains, market definition must be a critical issue in any Apple investigation or lawsuit:
Publishers, for example, might claim that Apple dominates the market for consumer tablet computers and that it has allegedly used that commanding position to restrict competition. Apple, in turn, might define the market to include all digital and print media, and counter that any publisher not happy with Apple’s terms is free to still reach its customers through many other print and digital outlets.
One must conduct a proper, empirically-grounded analysis of the relevant data to speak with confidence; however, it suffices to say that I am skeptical that tablet sales would constitute a relevant market. Continue reading →
[This guest post is by Joshua Wright (George Mason University) and Geoffrey Manne (International Center for Law & Economics), who blog regularly at Truth on the Market]
We’ve been reading with interest a bit of a blog squabble between Tim Wu and Adam Thierer (see here and here) set off by Professor Wu’s WSJ column: “In the Grip of the New Monopolists.” Wu’s column makes some remarkable claims, and, like Adam, we find it extremely troubling.
Wu starts off with some serious teeth-gnashing concern over “The Internet Economy”:
The Internet has long been held up as a model for what the free market is supposed to look like—competition in its purest form. So why does it look increasingly like a Monopoly board? Most of the major sectors today are controlled by one dominant company or an oligopoly. Google “owns” search; Facebook, social networking; eBay rules auctions; Apple dominates online content delivery; Amazon, retail; and so on.
There are digital Kashmirs, disputed territories that remain anyone’s game, like digital publishing. But the dominions of major firms have enjoyed surprisingly secure borders over the last five years, their core markets secure. Microsoft’s Bing, launched last year by a giant with $40 billion in cash on hand, has captured a mere 3.25% of query volume (Google retains 83%). Still, no one expects Google Buzz to seriously encroach on Facebook’s market, or, for that matter, Skype to take over from Twitter. Though the border incursions do keep dominant firms on their toes, they have largely foundered as business ventures.
What struck us about Wu’s column was that there was not even a thin veil over the “big is bad” theme of the essay. Holding aside complicated market definition questions about the markets in which Google, Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and others upon whom Wu focuses operate—that is, the question of whether these firms are actually “monopolists” or even “near monopolists”—a question that Adam deals with masterfully in his response (in essence: There is a serious defect in an analysis of online markets in which Amazon and eBay are asserted to be non-competitors, monopolizing distinct sectors of commerce)—the most striking feature of Wu’s essay was the presumption that market concentration of this type leads to harm.
Continue reading →