Big Companies Experiencing The Joys And Heartaches Of The Antitrust Underdog
Can antitrust law protect big companies as well as small companies and consumers?
An increasing number of large companies are discovering – as plaintiffs – that the answer is yes.
Many practitioners ascribe to the following paradigm: Antitrust enforcement is an anathema to large companies. They point to the fact that big companies, like Microsoft, AT&T and Verizon, have repeatedly fought private plaintiffs and antitrust enforcers as defendants/respondents in civil antitrust proceedings. But if antitrust enforcement represents inefficient, costly and intrusive forays into nullifying acts taken in an otherwise “free market,” why are these same large companies now seeking the assistance of antitrust enforcement?
Microsoft bitterly complains about Google’s dominance in Internet search, and phone companies balk at the market power of cable providers when they challenge them in video-programming and broadband markets. One can imagine that these big company complainants, who formerly argued that plaintiffs had to satisfy high evidentiary thresholds to succeed in a monopoly maintenance or attempted monopoly case, are now revisiting that position.
Is this ironic? Should any complaints by these large companies be given any credence in light of these companies’ former hostility to enforcement? One would think that they should be given the same consideration as any other antitrust complaint. If these complaints raise facts and economic theories that are consistent with the pro-consumer rationale at the heart of the Sherman Act, enforcers should act upon them.
Practitioners that specialize in antitrust enforcement may find large companies to be unlikely allies, yet still welcome their efforts to act as private attorneys general in the arena of antitrust enforcement, particularly as government enforcement efforts may be constrained in the future by our nation’s large deficit.