Pacific Bell Telephone Co. v. linkLine Communications

Petitioners (hereinafter AT&T) own infrastructure and facilities needed to provide “DSL” service, a method of connecting to the Internet at high speeds over telephone lines. As a condition for a recent merger, the Federal Communications Commission requires AT&T to provide wholesale DSL transport service to independent firms at a price no greater than the retail price of AT&T’s DSL service. The plaintiffs in this case, respondents here, are independent Internet service providers that compete with AT&T in the retail DSL market in California. The plaintiffs do not own all the facilities needed to supply DSL service, and must lease wholesale DSL transport service from AT&T. They filed suit under §2 of the Sherman Act, asserting that AT&T unlawfully “squeezed” their profit margins by setting a high price for the wholesale DSL transport service it sells and a low price for its own retail DSL service. This maneuver allegedly placed the plaintiffs at a competitive disadvantage, allowing AT&T to maintain monopoly power in the DSL market. AT&T moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the plaintiffs’ claims were foreclosed by Verizon Communications Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, LLP540 U. S. 398, 410, in which this Court held that a firm with no antitrust duty to deal with its rivals has no obligation to provide those rivals with a “sufficient” level of service. The District Court found that AT&T had no antitrust duty to deal with the plaintiffs, but nonetheless denied the motion, holding that Trinko did not address price-squeeze claims. The court certified its order for interlocutory appeal on the question whether Trinko bars price-squeeze claims when the parties are required to deal by federal communications law, but not antitrust law. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that Trinko did not address the viability of price-squeeze claims, and thus the plaintiffs’ complaint stated a potentially valid §2 claim.

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