Tag: monopoly power

Ofcom, the communications regulator, is keen to encourage the spread of super-fast broadband through investment in fibre-optic cabling. So far, super-fast broadband is available to around 46 per cent of the UK population. Both Virgin Media (formerly Telewest and NTL) and BT have invested in fibre optic cables, but Ofcom is keen to extend the use to rival companies.

It proposes two methods: the first is to give competitors access to BT’s cables; the second is to allow competitors to install their own cables using BT’s ducts and telegraph poles. In both cases BT would charge companies to use its infrastructure and would be free to set prices so as to ensure a ‘fair rate of return’.

The articles below consider this ‘solution’ and its likely success in developing competition in the super-fast broadband market through competition, or whether BT’s and Virgin’s market dominance will continue to the detriment of consumers. You can also find links below to the Ofcom report and summaries

Articles
BT welcomes Ofcom’s fibre access plans Reuters, Kate Holton (23/3/10)
Ofcom to encourage super-fast broadband Business Financial Newswire (23/3/10)
Ofcom tells BT to open its fibre network ShareCast (23/3/10)
Ofcom wants BT to open up infrastructure Financial Times, Philip Stafford (23/3/10)
Ofcom push to give broadband rivals access to BT tunnels Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw and Andrew Parker (23/3/10)
BT UK Pushes Ofcom to Open Virgin Medias Broadband Cable Ducts SamKnows, Phil Thompson (23/3/10)
BT welcomes Ofcom’s fibre access plans ISPreview, MarkJ (8/3/10)

Report and summaries
Summary: Enabling a super-fast broadband Britain Ofcom (23/3/10)
Review of the wholesale local access market: full document Ofcom (23/3/10)
Review of the wholesale local access market: summary Ofcom (23/3/10)

Questions

  1. What forms does competition take in the broadband market?
  2. What are the barriers to entry to the super-fast broadband market?
  3. Are fibre-optic networks a natural monopoly? Explain the significance of your answer for competition in the super-fast broadband market.
  4. Will Ofcom’s desire for BT to get a fair return on its wholesale pricing of access to its cabling, ducts and telegraph poles be sufficient to ensure effective competition and that profits are not excessive?
  5. Explain whether it would be in consumers’ interests for competitors to be given access to Virgin’s cables and ducts.

The European Commission has received three complaints against Google for anti-competitive practices. The complainants are Microsoft’s Ciao, UK price comparison site Foundem and French legal search engine ejustice.fr

“The Commission has not opened a formal investigation for the time being. As is usual when the Commission receives complaints, it informed Google earlier this month and asked the company to comment on the allegations. The Commission closely cooperates with the national competition authorities. No further information can be given at this stage.”

Although the complaints are different (see articles below), the common feature is that Google has used its dominant market position to the detriment of competitors and consumers. Not surprisingly, Google has vigorously defended itself against the accusations.

So just what is the case against Google? Are the complaints justified, or are they merely competitors whinging about their relative lack of success? The following articles look at the facts and the issues.

EU launches antitrust inquiry into Google ‘dominance’ Times Online, Mike Harvey (24/2/10)
Google Says It Faces Competition Complaints in Europe BusinessWeek, Brian Womack and Joseph Galante (24/2/10)
Google faces anti-monopoly probe by European Commission Guardian, Andrew Clark (24/2/10)
Why Europe could prove Google’s undoing Guardian, Bobbie Johnson (24/2/10)
Analysis: not evil? Are you sure? Times Online, Mike Harvey (24/2/10)
Google faces Brussels antitrust scrutiny Financial Times, Richard Waters and Nikki Tait (24/2/10)
EU Opens Antitrust Investigation Into Google. Microsoft’s Fingerprints Are Everywhere. Washington Post, MG Siegler (23/2/10)
Google Hit With Antitrust Probe in Europe PC World, James Niccolai (23/2/10)
Is Redmond The Puppet Master In Google EU Anti-Trust Investigation? search engine land, Greg Sterling (23/2/10)
Google Under Investigation by European Union PCMag, Mark Hachman (24/2/10)
EU inquiry points the searchlight on Google’s methods Telegraph, Kamal Ahmed (24/2/10)
Google under investigation for alleged breach of EU competition rules Telegraph, Kamal Ahmed (24/2/10)

Questions

  1. What is the case against Google? Does this make it in breach of EU competition law?
  2. Assess Google’s response.
  3. Is Google “doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners”?
  4. How could competition be increased for Google? Is this likely to happen?

Kraft was seeking to take over Cadbury since September 2009, (see Cadbury: Chocolate all change and A Krafty approach to Cadbury). But the Cadbury board had rejected previous bids as being too low. The September bid, for example, was valued at £10.2bn. On 19 January 2010, however, after heated negotiations the board accepted the latest offer by Kraft valued at £11.5bn ($19bn).

But is the deal good news? Or will what is sweet for senior management and the financial institutions which brokered the deal be dark bitter news for the main stakeholders – consumers, workers and shareholders? The following articles explore the issues.

Cadbury battle ends with midnight handshake Financial Times, Lina Saigol (19/1/10)
Cadbury takeover: a crafty bit of business or an overpriced confection? Telegraph, Jonathan Sibun (20/1/10)
Cadbury’s sweet City deal leaves a bitter taste in Bournville Guardian, Heather Stewart and Nick Mathiason (19/1/10)
Thousands of Cadbury jobs under threat as Kraft swallows a British icon (including video) Times Online, Helen Nugent and Catherine Boyle (20/1/10)
Cadbury deal ‘the price of globalisation’ Financial Times, Jenny Wiggins and Jonathan Guthrie (19/1/10)
Cadbury sale ‘right thing to do’ FT video (19/1/10)
Bitterness as Kraft wins Cadbury Independent, Nick Clark (20/1/10)
The winners: Management duo in line for bumper pay packet from takeover deal Independent, Nick Clark (20/1/10)
Kraft came hunting in the only country that would sell – Britain Independent, James Moore (20/1/10)
Kraft’s takeover leaves a bitter taste in the mouth Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (19/1/10)
A sweet deal – or a takeover that is hard to swallow? Independent, Hamish McRae (20/1/10)
Cadbury: banks are the real winners BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (20/1/10)
Warren Buffett blasts Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury Guardian, Graeme Wearden (20/1/10)
Cadbury says job cuts inevitable after Kraft takeover (including videos) BBC News (19/1/10)
Cadbury and the open market theory: they’d better be right Guardian blog, Michael White (20/1/10)
The Business: Bonus season and the Cadbury takeover Guardian podcast, Aditya Chakrabortty
How did Quakers conquer the British sweet shop? BBC News Magazine, Peter Jackson (20/1/10)
Why Kraft must keep organic cacao farmers sweet Guardian blog, Craig Sams (20/1/10)

Questions

  1. What were the incentives for the Cadbury board to accept the proposed offer by Kraft?
  2. Do such incentives lead to the efficient operation of markets?
  3. Explain what is meant by ‘competition for corporate control’. To what extent is such competition in the interests of consumers?
  4. What economies or diseconomies of scale are likely to result from the takeover? What will determine the extent to which changes in costs are passed on to the consumer?
  5. How will the following stakeholders fare from the takeover, both in the short run and in the long run: (a) consumers; (b) workers; (c) shareholders?
  6. Examine Warren Buffet’s arguments for rejecting the deal.

Is the power supply industry a cartel? Are the energy companies exploiting a position of market dominance to increase profits at the expense of consumers? At first sight, it would certainly seem so. Despite falling wholesale prices for gas and electricity, the six main power suppliers have not reduced prices to their customers. The result has been a substantial rise in profits. Over the past three years, the average annual gross profit for supplying each dual-fuel customer has been £110. The figure has now risen to £170, a rise of 55%. This is likely to rise further in the short term with further reductions in wholesale energy prices over the next few weeks.

But despite this large increase in profits, the power companies are considering increasing prices this coming winter if wholesale energy prices start to rise again, even though the expected wholesale price rise would still leave them with a gross profit of £140 per dual-fuel customer.

Ofgem, the gas and electricity industry regulator, wrote to the six main companies asking them to explain their pricing position. You can read Ofgem’s report from the link below. In it, Ofgem argues that there is scope for the companies to cut their prices. But Ofgem no longer has the power to cap prices: in 2002 the RPI-X system of price cap regulation was abandoned, since it was felt that there was enough competition between suppliers not to warrant price regulation.The articles below consider the question of whether the companies are justified in their pricing policy or whether they are exploiting their market power to make excessive profits.

No energy cuts despite huge profits (video) Channel 4 News (18/9/09)
Energy bills may rise despite wholesale price drop Times Online (19/9/09)
Where is the will to power? Times Online (19/9/09)
Energy bills set to rise further, companies warn Guardian (18/9/09)
Energy bills ‘unlikely to fall’ BBC News (18/9/09)
Bills face a power surge (Douglas Fraser’s Ledger) BBC News (18/9/09)
An Electricity and Gas Price Cartel? Why Ofgem Can’t Tell iStockAnalyst (17/9/09)

Evidence from Ofgem:
Ofgem’s letter to the six main suppliers and their responses to Ofgem can be read here
Ofgem’s findings can be read in Quarterly Wholesale / Retail Price Report – August 2009
Ofgem Factsheet: Household energy bills explained

Questions

  1. Assess the justification by the power companies for not reducing the price of gas and electricity to their customers.
  2. Explain what is meant by ‘hedging’ in the context of the purchase of gas and electricity.
  3. The power suppliers are an oligopoly. If there is collusion between them, what form does it take? Why is it very hard to find evidence of collusion?

Competition authorities in the USA and Europe tend to have a different approach to firms that have a dominant market position by virtue of their ownership of specific intellectual property, such as software codes. Thus companies such as Microsoft can exploit network economies, thereby making it hard for rival firms to compete. After all, if most people use Windows, there is an incentive to keep using it so as to be compatible with other users. Similar arguments apply to the ownership of physical property, such as ports, airports, railways and power lines, where the owners may choose to deny access to competitors.

So should companies such as Microsoft grant rivals access to their intellectual property? Would such access increase competition, or would it be a disincentive for rivals to innovate? The following article from The Economist considers the issue and refers to a recent paper by Sir John Vickers, former head of the Office of Fair Trading and now Warden of All Souls College, Oxford and President of the Royal Economic Society. He argues for a mid-way course between Europe and America – more interventionist than in the USA, but less rigidly regulated than in the EU.

What’s mine is yours The Economist (28/5/09)
Competition Policy and Property Rights, John Vickers Oxford University , Department of Economics, Discussion Paper Series (26/5/09)
See also
‘Intel inside’ could be outside the law

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by ‘network economies’ and give some examples.
  2. What are the arguments for and against requiring companies to give rivals access to their intellectual property?
  3. If companies are required by the competition authorities to give others access to their intellectual property, should they be allowed to charge their rivals for using such property, and, if so, how would the authorities determine the appropriate amount?