By many indicators, 2012 is ripe for the kind of boom in antitrust enforcement not seen since the late 1990s. Criminal enforcement penalties topped $1 billion in 2011 for just the second time ever, and the number of criminal cases doubled. Ongoing cartel investigations in municipal bonds, air cargo and other freight industries, and electronic and lighting components continued to drive massive settlement agreements.
The year came to a close with the scuttling of AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile. The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit in August to block the acquisition on anti-competitive grounds. AT&T withdrew its bid in November 2011, after an FCC report concluded the deal would lead to job loss and higher prices for consumers. The company announced in December it was permanently walking away from the merger.
When Christine Varney was appointed to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division in 2009, many expected a hard-hitting approach to big mergers right out of the gate. Instead, the department gave softer-than-anticipated treatment to controversial deals such as Ticketmaster-Live Nation and NBC-Comcast. When she stepped down last July for a job at Cravath, some were dismayed.