When Apple introduced its iPhone into a smartphone market where it had 0% market share, it cut a deal with AT&T Mobility to make it the exclusive provider of cell phone service. In exchange, ATTM subsidized the price of every iPhone by $450, thus ensuring that more consumers would be able to purchase iPhones, and introducing additional competition into the smartphone market.
Nonetheless, trial lawyers sued, bringing a class action alleging that this basic business arrangement violated the antitrust laws because it threatened to monopolize the previously non-existent market for “iPhone telephone service.”
This is ludicrous on its face. The smartphone market is more competitive than ever: in addition to the longstanding Blackberry, there’s new entrants Droid and HTC Evo (and vis-a-vis the latter, see this NSFW, but very funny, video). Without the phone carrier subsidization, many iPhone owners (including me) would be unable to afford an iPhone, and are clearly better off because of the exclusivity deal. Nonetheless, the Northern District of California has certified a class action over the practice—and not just any class, but a Rule 23(b)(2) mandatory class, meaning that every iPhone owner with an AT&T Mobility two-year contract is now involuntarily represented by attorneys that apparently care more about the possibility of extortionate settlement profit than the clients they purportedly represent.
The Center for Class Action Fairness is in talks with a number of iPhone owners who are concerned about being represented by class counsel who don’t have their best interest at heart, and considering filing papers moving to intervene and decertify the class. But economic experts willing to go on the record to refute quack antitrust analysis are not cheap; before we blow a good chunk of our annual budget on one, we’re curious if there’s anyone out there willing to work for a discount rate or, better yet, pro bono. (In the alternative, if there’s another public-interest law firm out there who’d like to take the lead role on this, I am happy to serve pro bono as both the client class member iPhone owner and as the expert witness, as well as assist on the legal side. Unfortunately, legal rules prohibit me from serving as both lead attorney and as a witness.)