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The Letter: A Matter of Antitrust

Posted: 08/2002

A Matter of Antitrust

WHEN
A DOOR IS CLOSED, SOMEWHERE a window is opened. Or should I say,
"cracked."

For competitive telecom carriers
that window of opportunity may be a mid-June federal appeals court ruling that
said consumers can sue their local telephone companies for antitrust violations.

The ruling came as a result of a
case filed in early 2000 by New York lawyer Curtis Trinko on behalf of customers
of Bell Atlantic’s competitors. Trinko vs. Bell Atlantic alleged the Bell
company did not give their carriers equal access to its network as required
under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The reason this ruling is important
to competitive providers — even though it was directed toward consumers — is
that it throws into question jurisdiction over claims of anticompetitive
behavior.

In the past, the Bells have been
successful at getting antitrust lawsuits filed against them by competitors
dismissed by citing an earlier action known as the Goldwasser case. In
Goldwasser, the court found the Bells are not subject to antitrust claims with
regard to service they provide to competitors. Instead, such claims of
anticompetitive behavior fall under jurisdiction of the FCC, which promulgated
the regulations imposed under the Telecom Act that govern competitors’ access to
Bell facilities.

Essentially, what this means is the
Bell companies can be guilty of breaking the law but not the Sherman Antitrust
Act.

However, by asserting the federal
courts can review claims of anticompetitive behavior, the new ruling could be a
counter to the Goldwasser precedent.

On the other hand, the Trinko ruling
may not apply to the majority of the antitrust cases brought by rivals because
it references consumer actions, which the FCC does not govern.

It is likely, however, the U.S.
Supreme Court eventually will decide the question of jurisdiction. At press
time, Verizon Communiations Inc. was considering asking the high court to
intercede.

While this may take some time,
should the ruling stand, it is possible evidence that Bell anticompetitive
behavior will be allowed to see the light of day.

Khali Henderson

 
khenderson@vpico.com.
Editor in Chief 


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