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The FTC announced Friday that it will formally examine whether Intel abused its dominant position

Somewhere at the headquarters of AMD, there must have been a cheer that went up on Friday.  After months of losing ground to Intel, employee layoffs, and under the shadow of Intel's looming Nehalem architecture, the company finally had some good news to be happy about.

It’s no small mystery that AMD these days simply seems incapable of outcompeting Intel.  Intel argues that this is due to its superior products.  AMD, however, has long maintained that Intel was deploying anticompetitive processes, which it says are digging it into a hole from which it cannot escape.  However, despite a passionate ad campaign and lengthy discussions with antitrust officials in the U.S., AMD has seemingly had a tough time selling its idea that Intel was cheating in the microprocessor war.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which supervises free trade in the U.S., announced that it was launching a formal antitrust investigation against Intel.  The stakes are high for both Intel and AMD; the total market for microprocessors racked up $225 billion in sales last year. 

Both Intel and AMD realize what’s at stake and have spent tens of millions in legal expenses and on public relations campaigns.  AMD had previous success in Europe, Korea, and Japan -- all of which have investigated Intel or threatened it with possible fines.  However, the biggest victory -- a U.S. antitrust investigation -- seemed out of reach until this week.

State authorities and federal appointees from the Bush administration have been taking a more lenient approach to antitrust that their European counterparts.  However, the major decision Friday marked a sharp new shift in policy. 

The new investigation originated with the new blood -- William E. Kovacic, the new chairman of the trade commission.  With the backing of his fellow commissioners, he reversed the decision of Deborah P. Majoras, the previous chair, who had been blocking the investigation for months to the frustration of those on Capitol Hill.  Majoras was a more lenient appointee, and helped work out the antitrust settlement in 2001 with Microsoft.

It will take months before formal charges against Intel might be made, so the upcoming administration’s stance will greatly factor into the case.  AMD is relying on the federal case as only one state -- New York, at the behest of attorney general Andrew M. Cuomo -- has agreed to investigate Intel on a state level.  California attorney general Jerry Brown denied AMD's pleas, derisively commenting that he was "not barking at every truck that comes down the street."

D. Bruce Sewell, Intel’s senior vice president and general counsel, says that the U.S. antitrust laws are different than European ones, and it will not be charged.  Intel is planning on racking up its Capitol Hill efforts, though, likely in the form of lobbyist dollars.

The first signs of the upcoming bad news for Intel appeared when chip manufacturers began to get subpoenaed by the FTC.  The FTC is working with Europe and other foreign governments to obtain evidence to use against Intel in a possible case.  Mr. Sewell said that he was working amiably with the FTC on a less formal review since 2006 and that Intel would remain cooperative.

AMD's top executives expressed their pleasure over the Commission's decision.  Tom McCoy, executive vice president for legal affairs at AMD, stated, "Intel must now answer to the Federal Trade Commission, which is the appropriate way to determine the impact of Intel practices on U.S. consumers and technology businesses.  In every country around the world where Intel’s business practices have been investigated, including the decision by South Korea this week, antitrust regulators have taken action."

The largest U.S. antitrust investigation since the Microsoft one of the 90s came the same week as more good news for AMD; Korean officials slammed Intel with a $25 million fine for violating its fair trade laws.  The Korean officials discovered that Intel illegally paid Samsung Electronics and the Trigem Company $37 million in payments between 2002 and 2005 to not buy AMD processors.  The European Union's European Commission (EC), which charged Intel with "the aim of excluding its main rival from the market" is expected to expand its charges this year.

Intel currently owns somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of the worldwide microprocessor market.  Many U.S. citizens do not realize that U.S. laws do allow monopolies, unlike elsewhere, but forbid companies with a monopoly from using its dominance to restrict competition.

With mounting evidence worldwide, Intel faces a tough case before the FTC.  However, it will likely do what it takes, or perhaps more aptly write the lobbyist checks needed to prevent it from becoming the next Microsoft.  Meanwhile, AMD will also likely step up its efforts in hopes that it can stop its downhill slide by a court victory over Intel.

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RE: If this is what it takes, so be it.
By BansheeX on 6/9/2008 8:57:47 AM , Rating: -1
You know that people are talking about monopolies here, there is no one else???? That's the point.

No, you still don't get it. Intel doesn't have an infinite amount of capital, which is the only way they could suppress or buy out endless amount of capital coming in to undercut the price gouges. Let's pretend Intel was the only x86 chip maker right now, and they began to sell yearly 50mhz updates at $500 above cost minimum. You don't think somebody like an IBM or Via or Microsoft would jump in to seize on that profit opportunity to outperform and undercut their complacence? Remember, it doesn't have to be a company that is currently competing with Intel. Where did AMD come from all the sudden? How soon we forget that there's a ton of capital out there and skilled startups hungry for new investments.

If you're talking about new companies coming into the market, you think that the company which has a monopoly to defend will give the newcomer an easy ride?

Why should they? Let's pretend that none of these charges ever happened and AMD just made a bunch of terrible business mistakes, lackluster chip designs, relative to Intel's latest offerings which are very good regardless of your feelings about them. Intel would be in the same position that they are today. Then we would both agree that in that scenario, a legitimate monopoly is formed. Do you believe that government should step in and penalize Intel, transfer wealth from Intel to its losing competitors under the pretense of preserving competition?

By Aloonatic on 6/9/2008 12:09:01 PM , Rating: 2
AMD came from IBM demanding that Intel wasn't the only fabricator of chips and had to be given a leg up by Intel in the first place.

If Intel weren't forced to give AMD information then there would not be an AMD like there is now.

The infinite capital argument is a bit silly (as most of these arguments are, granted, i was arguing a total monopoly) and I hoped that my allusion to the arm band manufacturing company may have made it obvious to you that it is more to do with the massive barrier that is the cost of entry to the market.

And if Intel were making these $500 margin chips and IBM and AMD were starting from scratch, just wear would they make their competing chips, who would be designing them and who in their right mind would invest in a company facing a competitor who is able to sell a product happily making those sort of margins?

And then Intel have $500 margin to play with and cut for as long as it takes to see off any upstart.

They could afford to sell them at a loss assuming that they had had the market to themselves for long enough to have built up some serious levels of reserves and stock holders would be happy to invest a little bit more knowing that it as as close to a sure fire winner as you can get.

That is what I meant about defending their market.

I agree that when 1 company has a dominant position it is perfectly reasonable to defend how ever they can within the law, but in the example you set out it is obvious that Intel could just price anyone out of the market very quickly.

Are Intel being punished for Intel/IBM/VIA's incompetence?

Mostly, these arguments are pointless and people are arguing over different things here I think.

The point is, monopolies are rarely any good and there are laws against them for a reason.

have run out oif time at work, haven't had time to proof read, hope it makes sense :-s

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