TIME Google

Yelp Just Threw a Monkey Wrench Into Google’s Billion-Dollar Antitrust Case

Yelp Opposes Google EU Antitrust Settlement
Joaquin Almunia, competition commissioner for the European Union, speaks during an interview in Washington, D.C., in 2012. Bloomberg via Getty Images

At least 20 complaints in the case investigating if Google search results are anticompetitive by favoring its own products

Yelp has joined those opposed to the European Union’s proposed antitrust settlement with Google, opponents of which believe the American search giant has not been fully prosecuted for its ostensibly self-promoting search engine.

Yelp filed a formal complaint against the E.U.’s proposed settlement on June 1, though it was only recently surfaced. In the complaint, Yelp accuses Google’s search engine of favoring Google Plus Local, according to the New York Times. Google Plus Local directly competes with Yelp, an increasingly popular site where users can discover, rate and review local businesses.

Google avoided a multibillion-dollar antitrust fine when it reached a provisional deal with European regulators in February, in which it agreed to alter its display of search results. The E.U.’s antitrust commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, is expected to finalize the settlement later this year before he leaves office this fall. Yelp, however, says Google is getting off too light.

“I truly fear the landscape for innovation in Europe is infertile, and this is a direct result of the abuses Google has undertaken with its dominant position,” Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman wrote in a letter in May to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who oversees Almunia.

The E.U.’s investigation of Google began in November 2010 when several companies, including Microsoft, whose Bing search competes directly with Google search, accused Google of promoting its own services in search results. Google dominates the search engine market in Europe, where nearly 80 percent of Internet searches are made on Google, compared to 65 percent in the U.S., according to comScore.

In the U.S., a parallel two-year antitrust investigation of Google’s search engine closed in 2013, leaving Google relatively unscathed. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that Google search did not break antitrust law, inciting anger from FairSearch.org, a group of Google rivals which includes Microsoft and Kayak. FairSearch.org then turned its attention to the ongoing E.U. investigation to “fight to restore truly competitive conditions to the market for search and related online services,” the coalition told the Washington Post. At the time, Yelp had called the FTC’s decision a “missed opportunity,” and also looked to the European case for a fairer settlement.

On June 11, the E.U.’s Almunia expressed his intention to dismiss the case’s 20 formal complaints — it is not yet clear if Yelp’s was one of these — a required step before a finalized settlement can be signed. Still, by procedure, Almunia and the Commission must review Yelp’s complaint. If it is approved, then the antitrust investigation will resume, and Yelp will be granted the right to appeal the eventual settlement.

[NYT]

TIME Apple

There’s a Huge “If” in Apple’s e-Book Settlement

Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook addresses the crowd during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2013 in San Francisco
Stephen Lam—Reuters

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

U.S.A. v. Apple, the e-book antitrust suit that Apple lost so spectacularly last year, is back in the news.

Apple has struck a deal with the states attorneys general who had demanded hundreds of millions of dollars in damages on behalf of book buyers in the their states. By settling, the two sides avoided a jury trial that was set to begin next month.

But there’s a big “if” in the letter the parties submitted to U.S. District Judge Denise Cote Monday — along with a sealed document that outlined the terms of the deal.

No money will change hands until Apple’s appeals of Judge Cote’s controversial ruling – which it has said it will take to the Supreme Court, if necessary — is exhausted.

For the rest of the story, head to Fortune.com.

TIME Antitrust

Comcast-Time Warner Cable Deal Faces Scrutiny From States

Cable Giant Comcast To Acquire Time Warner Cable
Brian Hunt, Director Engineering, South Florida, stands among the cables and routers at a Comcast distribution center where the Comcast regional video, high speed data and voice are piped out to customers on February 13, 2014 in Miramar, Fla. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

More than two dozen state governments are working with the Justice Department to make sure Comcast's $45 billion offer to snatch up Time Warner Cable doesn't violate antitrust laws, as critics warn of increasing media consolidation

More than two dozen states including California, Florida and Connecticut are working with the Justice Department to determine if Comcast’s $45 billion offer to buy Time Warner Cable runs afoul of antitrust laws, sources confirmed to TIME on Wednesday.

The proposed merger of the two largest cable companies in the United States has attracted criticism from public interest groups who say that the deal would concentrate too much market power in the hands of one company.

Along with the Justice Department, which will address antitrust concerns, the merger faces scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission, which is charged with ensuring that the deal serves the public interest. Comcast maintains that the deal isn’t anticompetitive because the two companies don’t compete in the same markets, and says the merger will result in improved service for consumers.

Some 25 states are currently participating in the multistate group reviewing the proposed transaction, according to a person familiar with the probe.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen’s office is part of the group, a spokesperson for Jepsen confirmed to TIME. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office is also participating. “We are part of a multistate group reviewing the proposed transaction along with the U.S. DOJ Antitrust Division,” a spokesperson for Bondi said in an emailed statement.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office is also part of the multistate review group, according to a person familiar with the matter. Harris’s office declined to comment. New York is not part of the multistate review group at this time, a spokesperson told TIME. A spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he “cannot confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence of an investigation.”

Indiana officials are also examining the deal to determine “the potential impact in Indiana,” a spokesperson told Reuters, which first reported the states probes. Pennsylvania, where Comcast is headquartered, is “reviewing the case independently,” a spokesman for the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office told Reuters. A spokesperson for the Justice Department confirmed the federal antitrust probe, but declined to comment on the multistate review group.

Combining Comcast and Time Warner Cable would create a corporate giant with approximately 33 million pay-TV customers and about one-third of the U.S. broadband Internet market. Comcast already owns NBCUniversal, after buying the media company from industrial conglomerate General Electric. As part of the proposed Time Warner Cable deal, Comcast will extend the commitment it made during the NBCUniversal review to abide by open-Internet principles until 2018.

Major entertainment and content companies that sell programming to cable and satellite companies have expressed concern that the merger could create a powerful gatekeeper with unprecedented buying power in the market. This could give the combined company what economists call “monopsony” power, which is one buyer with many sellers, as opposed to “monopoly” power, which is one seller with many buyers.

Such monopsony power could have benefits for consumers, because the combined company would have increased leverage in contentious negotiations with the TV broadcasters over “retransmission consent fees,” which cable and satellite companies pay for the right to carry popular programming like prime-time shows and sports. That could mean downward pressure on prices for consumers, but only if the combined company chose to pass those savings on to them, which is by no means certain.

Retransmission consent fees were at the heart of last year’s dispute between CBS and Time Warner Cable, which led to an unprecedented, monthlong CBS blackout for more than 3 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas.

Time Warner Cable, which was spun off from TIME parent Time Warner in 2009, is an attractive takeover target because of its major presence in several important markets, including New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas, as well as large portions of Ohio, North Carolina and Maine. In order to help assuage regulators, Comcast has said it’s willing to jettison as many as 3 million subscribers in order to make sure the new company does not exceed 30% of the cable market.

Comcast declined to comment on the state probes, but it’s worth noting that these state attorneys general reviews are typical for a proposed merger of this size, because the deal has the potential to affect millions of consumers across the country. During the review process for Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, some 14 states participated.

TIME Google

Google Reaches Antitrust Deal With E.U.

A Google logo is seen at the garage where the company was founded on Google's 15th anniversary in Menlo Park, California
Stephen Lam / Reuters

Avoids billions in penalties but must change its continental web model

Google reached a tentative settlement with European Union regulators Wednesday that would require the tech giant to change its search display on the continent, but let the company avoid billions of dollars in antitrust penalties.

The preliminary agreement is the result of three years of high-profile legal wrangling and investigations in Europe, and would exempt Google from antitrust lawsuits as long as the company makes concessions about its search engine’s advertising operation, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The European Commission said in 2012 that Google unfairly promotes its own search results, among other concerns like forcing publishers to sign exclusivity deals and dissuading clients from using other online advertising sites.

The agreement stipulates that Google must feature the services of its competitors on its display in a way that is “comparable” and “clearly visible” next to Google’s links, marking them as “alternatives.”

Microsoft, which owns rival search engine Bing, strongly criticized the deal, saying it still puts the company at a competitive disadvantage to Google.

The deal, which is likely to be finalized later this year, follows Google’s 2013 agreement to change its search practices in the United States, to avoid formal Federal Trade Commission antitrust charges.

[WSJ]

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