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Are Early-Termination Fees ‘Junk’ Fees?

TOTM Cable and satellite companies often get a bad rap for early termination fees (ETFs). Consumer advocates portray them as “junk fees” or billing traps meant . . .

Cable and satellite companies often get a bad rap for early termination fees (ETFs). Consumer advocates portray them as “junk fees” or billing traps meant to cheat customers. And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appears to accept these allegations at face value, characterizing ETFs as “junk fee billing practices … that penalize subscribers for terminating video service or switching video service providers.”

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities

Four Problems with the Supreme Court’s Refusal To Hear the Epic v Apple Dispute

TOTM The U.S. Supreme Court this week rejected both parties’ petitions for certiorari in appeals of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision Epic Games . . .

The U.S. Supreme Court this week rejected both parties’ petitions for certiorari in appeals of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision Epic Games v Apple. Many observers—including Epic CEO Tim Sweeney—have marked this as an unmitigated loss for Epic. 

That’s partly right. The district court had correctly rejected Epic’s federal antitrust claims against Apple (and against Epic, on Apple’s breach-of-contract counterclaim); the 9th Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision; and the Supreme Court’s refusal to grant cert leaves those Epic losses undisturbed. 

But Apple was denied a sweep at the district court, which ruled in favor of Epic’s claim under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). The 9th Circuit likewise sustained that state law decision. The Supreme Court has thus left both that state law decision and the district court’s nationwide injunction undisturbed.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

A Consumer-Welfare-Centric Reform Agenda for the Federal Trade Commission

TOTM As we approach a presidential election year, it is time to begin developing a  comprehensive reform agenda for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In that . . .

As we approach a presidential election year, it is time to begin developing a  comprehensive reform agenda for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In that spirit, this post proposes 12 reforms that could be implemented by new leadership, either through unilateral action by a new chair or (in some cases) majority votes of the commission.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Brian Albrecht on Antitrust and Big Sandwich

Presentations & Interviews ICLE Chief Economist Brian Albrecht joined the HubWonk podcast to address concerns and separate fact from fiction surrounding alleged anti-consumer practices of big business and . . .

ICLE Chief Economist Brian Albrecht joined the HubWonk podcast to address concerns and separate fact from fiction surrounding alleged anti-consumer practices of big business and when the federal government is justified in taking antitrust actions. Video of the full episode is embedded below.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Where Are the New FTC Rules?

TOTM Perhaps more than at any time in its history, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under Chair Lina Khan has highlighted substantive rulemaking as a central . . .

Perhaps more than at any time in its history, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under Chair Lina Khan has highlighted substantive rulemaking as a central element of its policy agenda. But despite a great deal of rule-related sound and fury (signifying nothing?), new final rules have yet to emerge, and do not appear imminent. This post explores some possible “whys and wherefores” that may help explain this seemingly peculiar state of affairs, and the policy implications of the commission’s recent rulemaking activity.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Google, Amazon, Switching Costs, and Red Herrings

TOTM Way back in May, I cracked wise about the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) fictional “Bureau of Let’s Sue Meta,” noting that the commission’s proposal (really, . . .

Way back in May, I cracked wise about the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) fictional “Bureau of Let’s Sue Meta,” noting that the commission’s proposal (really, an “order to show cause”) to modify its 2020 settlement of a consumer-protection matter with what had then been Facebook—in other words, a settlement modifying a 2012 settlement—was the FTC’s third enforcement action with Meta in the first half of 2023. That seemed like a lot, even if we ignored, say, Meta’s European and UK matters (see, e.g., here on the EU Digital Markets Act’s “gatekeeper” designations; here on the Norwegian data-protection authority; here and here on the Court of Justice of the European Union, and here on the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal).

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Amicus of Legal and Economic Scholars to the 5th Circuit in Tesla v Louisiana Auto Dealers Association

Amicus Brief STATEMENT OF AMICI INTEREST Amici are law professors, economists, or other academics with expertise in competition law and economic regulation. Amici do not work for . . .

STATEMENT OF AMICI INTEREST

Amici are law professors, economists, or other academics with expertise in competition law and economic regulation. Amici do not work for Tesla, nor have they been compensated in any way for their participation in this brief.[1]

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT

Amici appear in support of Tesla on two issues with a common thread.[2] The district court’s opinion erred in insulating the actions of the Louisiana legislature and the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission (“LMVC”) from antitrust and constitutional review under a flawed framework for scrutinizing state regulations that suppress competition and favor economic special interests.

First, Amici submit that the district court erred in holding that commissioners of the LMVC were protected by Noerr-Pennington immunity when they “agreed with [the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association (“LADA”)] to use the regulatory power of the Commission to investigate Tesla.” Op. at 27. Although public officials may enjoy Noerr-Pennington immunity when they act in a purely private capacity, a public official who is also a market participant and agrees with others to utilize public power in a manner designed to suppress competition in order to further his own economic interests should not be immunized from antitrust scrutiny. The Noerr-Pennington doctrine protects the rights of citizens to petition the government for redress of grievance. It does not protect governmental officials who conspire to use governmental power to favor their own economic interests. The district court’s approach would create a loophole in the antitrust laws permitting actors wielding state power to avoid responsibility for abuses of official power.

Second, Amici dispute the district court’s finding that Louisiana’s direct sales ban had a rational basis in consumer protection. As Amici explain below, direct sales bans in automotive retailing were historically focused on the exclusive goal of protecting dealers in franchise relationships with manufacturers. Thus, in the cases in which this Court upheld such statutes against constitutional challenge—Ford Motor Co. v. Texas Dep’t of Transp., 264 F.3d 493 (5th Cir. 2001); Int’l Truck & Engine Corp. v. Bray, 372 F.3d 717 (5th Cir. 2004)—the ostensible rational basis of the legislation was the protection of dealers against the superior bargaining power of their franchising manufacturers. But that logic can have no bearing on the application of Louisiana’s 2017, anti-Tesla direct sales prohibition, for the simple reason that Tesla (and other new electric vehicle manufacturers) do not use franchised dealers at all, but sell directly to the consuming public. In such circumstances, dealers are not being protected as franchisees, they are protected from economic competition by companies using a different business model—exactly what this Court held does not count as a rational basis in St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille, 712 F.3d 215 (5th Cir. 2013). Further, efforts to justify direct sales bans as consumer protection rather than dealer protection have no support in economic theory or evidence. Such arguments are mere pretexts for the economic protectionism that this Court has held does not survive equal protection scrutiny

[1] Amici join this brief solely in their individual capacities and express only their individual views. Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

[2] Amici take no position on other arguments raised by Tesla’s appeal.

 

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

I, For One, Welcome Our New FTC Overlords

TOTM In this post—the last planned post for this symposium on The FTC’s New Normal (though we will continue to accept unsolicited submissions of responses)—I will offer some . . .

In this post—the last planned post for this symposium on The FTC’s New Normal (though we will continue to accept unsolicited submissions of responses)—I will offer some summary of the ideas that have been shared here over the past month, before turning to some of my own thoughts. To keep your attention rapt, I will preview that my thoughts will live up to the title of this post: I will sing some sincere praise for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Justice Department’s (DOJ) honesty and newfound litigiousness.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

More FTC Overreach in Labor Markets

TOTM The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Labor Department (DOL) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this past week “to strengthen the Agencies’ partnership through greater cooperation . . .

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Labor Department (DOL) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this past week “to strengthen the Agencies’ partnership through greater cooperation and coordination in information sharing, investigations and enforcement activity, training, education, research, and outreach.” The accompanying Sept. 21 announcement is another example of FTC overreach, as it highlights matters that simply are not part of the agency’s mission.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection