Platforms in the Spotlight at the FTC Hearings


Over a series of three days, from October 15 to 17, 2018, the Global Antitrust Institute (GAI) hosted the third session of the FTC Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century at the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University. After introductory remarks by Scalia Law School Dean Henry Butler and Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra, the panels broadly focused upon three topics: (1) multisided platforms, (2) nascent/potential competition, and (3) labor policy. The overarching focus of the hearings was clearly multisided platforms, which accounted for seven of the twelve panels. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ohio v. American Express, platforms are rightly the subject of significant attention and discussion ranging from the economic tools and methods to evaluate platforms to the correct legal framework for capturing and shaping that analysis. The economic research on platforms began in earnest fifteen years ago with pioneering work from Evans (2003) and Rochet and Tirole (2003). Much of the important economic learning over the past fifteen years—economic concepts such as cross-group effects, the interrelationship of demand, and the difference between transaction and non-transaction platforms—are becoming part of the antitrust lexicon. Much of the discussion at the hearings mirrored the conversation taking place among academic economists and lawyers, as well as practitioners and courts, focusing upon how to integrate that economic learning into antitrust institutions and doctrine. 

While the dueling set of amicus briefs for the American Express case indicates there are certainly areas of disagreement, we highlight what we believe emerged throughout the hearings as areas of general consensus in how to assess platforms in an antitrust context.