Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : January 14, 2009

AT&T settled a civil contempt claim with the DOJ in connection with its failure to comply with the divestiture requirements in a consent decree governing its acquisition of Dobson Communications Corporation.  In particular, AT&T failed to keep confidential customer information relating to the businesses that had to be divested.  The Antitrust Division’s press release appears below:

WASHINGTON — AT&T Inc. has agreed to pay more than $2 million as part of a civil settlement with the Department of Justice that resolves AT&T’s alleged violations of two court orders entered in connection with AT&T’s acquisition of Dobson Communications Corporation.

The Department today filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking it to find AT&T in civil contempt of a 2008 consent decree and a related court order. At the same time, the Department filed a settlement agreement and order, subject to court approval, that would resolve the Department’s concerns. The payment to the United States includes reimbursement to the government for the cost of its investigation into AT&T’s alleged violations.

“It is imperative that companies fully abide by their court-ordered obligations in order for our settlements to be effective in preserving competition and protecting consumers,” said Deborah A. Garza, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department’s Antitrust Division. “When companies fail to comply with a court order, the Antitrust Division will take swift and certain action to ensure that companies fulfill their responsibilities.”

Under the consent decree entered by the court in March 2008, AT&T was required to divest mobile wireless telecommunications businesses in three rural service areas (RSAs)  two in Kentucky and one in Oklahoma. Pending divestiture, a management trustee was appointed to oversee the businesses to be divested. Under the consent decree and a related court order, AT&T was required to take all steps necessary to ensure that the divested businesses were operated independently of AT&T and that AT&T did not influence how they were managed. AT&T was also required to take all reasonable efforts to preserve the confidentiality of information material to the operation of the divested businesses and not give unauthorized personnel access to such information.

According to the petition filed by the Department, AT&T failed to fulfill its obligations under the two court orders. The petition alleges that AT&T failed to separate confidential customer account information of the divested businesses from its own customer records and to take other actions needed to prevent unauthorized disclosure. Consequently, AT&T personnel obtained unauthorized access to the divested businesses’ competitively sensitive customer information and in some situations used it to solicit and win away the divested businesses’ customers. The petition further alleges that AT&T, without authorization by the management trustee, waived early termination fees for several customers of the divested businesses to facilitate switching their wireless service from the divested businesses to AT&T.



Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : October 20, 2008

In In re Apple & AT&TM Antitrust Litigation, No. 07-CV-05152-JW (N.D. Cal. Oct. 1, 2008) (attached IPhone Decision), plaintiffs alleged that the arrangement in which the Apple IPhone worked exclusively with AT&TM not only for the initial two-year contract period but also for three additional years after their contracts expired with AT&TM violated Section 2 of the Sherman Act.  Plaintiffs also alleged that Apple’s restrictions on dowloadable applications for use on IPhones violated Section 2.  Plaintiffs alleged Section 2 claims of monopolization and attempted monopolization of the market for IPhone applications and monopolization, attempted monopolization and a conspiracy to monopolize the market for voice and data services to IPhone owners.  The Northern District of California held that there were cognizable relevant product markets limited to Apple IPhone customers in these aftermarkets.  The court distinguished cases in which customers voluntarily commit to a lock-in through a contract such as when a franchisee agrees to purchase certain products from its franchisor.  In this case, the Complaint alleged that the lock-in was created through deceit or unbeknownst to the customers at the time of purchase.  The Complaint alleged that the IPhone customers did not know that they could not unlock their IPhones from AT&TM service after the two-year commitment or  the limitation on downloadable applications.  This case is consistent with the Supreme Court’s approach in determining whether aftermarkets represent separate relevant product markets.  The key inquiry is whether the consumer knows or has reason to know of limitations in purchasing products or services in the afermarket before he becomes locked-in by the initial purchase.