Measuring Monopsony: Using the Antitrust Toolbox to Protect Market Competition and Help the Television Consumer

By Derr, Jacob M. | William and Mary Law Review, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Measuring Monopsony: Using the Antitrust Toolbox to Protect Market Competition and Help the Television Consumer


Derr, Jacob M., William and Mary Law Review


TABLE OF CONTENTS  INTRODUCTION I. CABLE'S REGULATORY TRADITION: MEASURING COMPETITION    MARKET-TO-MARKET    A. Cable as a Natural Monopoly       1. Efficiency: The Cheapest Good for the Greatest          Number       2. Equity: Providing the Local Voice    B. History of Cable Regulation and Deregulation       1. Cable Regulation       2. Antitrust Oversight of Cable    C. Comcast-Time Warner Cable and Future Mergers II. THE FAILURE OF CURRENT GOVERNMENT MEASURES    A. In Search of a Limiting Principle    B. Tales from the Other Side    C. Programmers Are Limited by Antitrust Law       1. Legal Limitations       2. Two Sets of Losers, Two Doctrines Lost III. THE DO J MUST MEASURE BOTH CABLE MONOPOLY AND      MONOPSONY WHEN CALCULATING THE HHI (AND REJECT A      MERGER EXCEEDING EITHER THRESHOLD)      A. The Legal Authority      B. Enter Monopsony         1. Background         2. DOJ/FTC Framework      C. Balancing Efficiency and Equity      D. The Time Is Now, Not the Future         1. Cable Companies Will Lose Ground         2. Line-Drawing Problems         3. "Would it be so bad?" Counterarguments CONCLUSION 

INTRODUCTION

After a long day at the office, Carl Chicago comes home to spend a few minutes catching up on world events courtesy of CNN. Settling into the couch cushion, he turns on the TV, only to find the network blacked out. A message from his cable provider, Comcast, tells him that it is currently disputing its agreement with the station, and gives him a number to call to register his complaint. Carl is undeterred, and decides that he would rather just kick back with Finn and Jake on Adventure Time instead. But as he turns to Cartoon Network for some much-needed entertainment, he runs into a similar message from his cable provider. Carl, growing increasingly frustrated, decides to call his sister in Virginia, Wendy Williamsburg, who can see both of the stations fine. Carl begins complaining to her about the amount he pays for stations he cannot even access. "Well how much do you pay?" she asks. Carl tells her he pays about $75 per month for the standard expanded cable. Wendy checks her own bill. Up until about a year ago, she had been paying roughly the same amount, around $76.50 or so. However, for the same package of channels, she notices she is now paying almost $84. "How can this be?" she asks Carl, wondering why his enormous cable conglomerate can offer such lower prices than hers. "Don't ask me," Carl retorts, "I didn't pick them."

Carl, as well as most of his neighbors and friends throughout the country, did not choose his cable company. That is because most localities have only one cable provider, and although there were previously hundreds, if not thousands, of different cable companies nationwide, most people today are served by one of only a few national conglomerates. More concerning than this lack of competition is that federal regulators at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have sanctioned this situation by choosing to measure a cable company's growth only in individual markets, potentially ignoring nationwide gains.

The merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable would have been the largest merger of two cable providers in history. (1) Before Comcast abandoned its plans after the tepid reaction of both the DOJ and the Federal Communications Comminsion (FCC), (2) the merger garnered substantial consumer opposition (3) and concerned policy analysts and economists over the power such a large company would have. (4) The cable industry began as a collection of small conglomerates serving one or a few localities, (5) until providers began to combine. (6) There are now only about seven companies serving most of the cable-using public nationwide, of which the four largest are Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, and Charter Communications. (7)

When companies merge, they must submit notice of the merger to the federal government. …

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