When are Consumer Markets Effectively Competitive?

When is a market effectively competitive? And what are the key tests of whether markets are effectively competitive? To examine the matter simply, is it the number of suppliers in a given local market, or the market shares of those competitors?

Of course there is the argument that it is a combination of those two metrics. But the answers might hinge on which test is dominant.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, for example,  seems to apply different standards to different services within the triple play bundle.

In high speed access, the Commission appears to believe there is not enough competition, with two terrestrial providers and two satellite providers in just about every market.

In the case of linear video services, the FCC thinks competition is effectively competitive with the same number of suppliers in virtually every market.

So perhaps it is the market share test that is relevant.

Still, the market share held by the market leader in most local markets does not vary much, whether looking at high speed access or linear video.

Broadly, a cable operator has about 59 percent share of the high speed access market, while in linear video the local cable TV operator tends to have about 52 percent share.

What differs is the share held by other contestants. In high speed access markets, though there are a growing number of competitors (two satellite Internet providers, Google Fiber an independent ISPs), market share generally is held by the cable TV operator and a local telco.

On a national basis, a cable provider might have 59 percent share, the telco might have 40 percent share. Satellite and other providers have the rest of the share. Local markets will vary much more widely, however.

Still, high speed access tends to feature four providers in most markets, despite the fact that the market share structure is functionally a duopoly.

In linear video, market share is much more dispersed. Nationally, cable operators have about 52 percent share, while satellite providers have about 36 percent share, while telcos have about 12 percent share.

In the linear video market, virtually every market has four providers, as well. In 1993, a cable operator had about 93 percent share.

The linear video market arguably is more competitive, one might say. On the other hand, should AT&T succeed in buying DirecTV, the number of suppliers in linear video, in most markets, would drop to three.

The result would be that in many markets, where AT&T has fixed network operations, though hat a cable operator might still have roughly 52 percent share, AT&T might have 27 percent share.

Dish Network would still have perhaps 15 percent share. In some markets, where AT&T does not have local fixed network facilities, Verizon might have about 25 percent to 30 percent share of linear video.

More competition is coming, in voice, high speed access and linear video markets. But the FCC now seems to have concluded that voice and linear video now have become effectively competitive, though it believes high speed access and mobility have not reached that stage, yet.
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