Competition Matters 2017 a sold-out success

The Competition Matters 2017 conference was a sold-out success with around 250 delegates attending over the 2 days.

“We felt we had pulled together a very strong programme with some outstanding speakers, but we were taken aback at the demand for tickets,” said Commission Chief Executive Brent Alderton.

“We are considering whether we look for a bigger venue for the 2019 event, or even whether we hold separate events with regulatory, consumer and competition focus,” he said.

The conference featured parallel sessions, with participants choosing between presentations and panels focusing on regulation, competition or consumer, with addresses by world-leading experts in various fields.

“We really had some big names from the world of competition and regulation policy, and we are extremely gratified that they felt this event was important enough to give up a chunk of northern summer,” said Mr Alderton.

Loyola University of Chicago’s Professor Spencer Weber Waller kicked the conference off by citing 1971 sci-fi movie The Omega Man. He argued that, like Charlton Heston’s character, the US is becoming a global outlier in many areas of antitrust.

Next, Professor Harry First from New York University explored the impact of the internet on antitrust, including the rise of what he termed “The Frightful Five” – the massive internet firms which are now the five largest companies in the US: Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. He used the example of the bizarrely oscillating price of Jet Puff Mini Marshmallows on Amazon to suggest that the customer may not always get the best deal.

Other highlights included Richard Feasey’s provocative address about the coming “virtualisation of networks” where ownership of network assets is separated from control. Increasingly, network providers may merely own hardware for rent. The networks operating on their assets could exist entirely as software, just as Uber and Airbnb can operate while owning no vehicle fleet or real estate.

Competition policy in small markets was also a focus – from Israeli expert Professor Michal Gal. She noted that size does matter, and that small markets can suffer from high concentration, high barriers to entry and sub-optimal production levels.

The vastly experienced Professor George Yarrow of Oxford’s Regulatory Policy Institute gave two addresses, on incentive regulation and regulation in small markets. His examples ranged from the unintended consequences of an Israeli childcare centre moving to charge parents for late collection (it led to substantially more late collections), to “regulation as soap opera” – the effect on regulatory decisions of a foul tackle in a Guernsey school rugby game.

The conference ended with a provocative panel discussion focusing on a hypothetical meeting of New Zealand “nuclear-power providers”, with the panel challenged for their views on whether the meeting conduct was illegal in a competition law sense.