This case study has been published in:

Marty F. and J. Pillot (2009), «L’application de la théorie des facilités essentielles dans la décision voyages-sncf.com: une analyse économique», Revue Lamy Concurrence, 19(2), 20-26

Marty F. and J. Pillot (2009), «The Essential Facilities Doctrine Enforcement in the French antitrust authority decision in voyages-sncf.com: an economic analysis », Revue Lamy Concurrence, 19(2), 20-26

               
Judgments & Legal References : Decision n°09-D-06 of the French Conseil de la Concurrence in Voyages-scnf.com v. Expedia Inc. v. Karavel-Promovacances et Switch et Lastminute (2009).

 

Overview : In its decision n°09-D-06, the French Conseil de la concurrence fines SNCF and Expedia Inc. for several anticompetitive behaviours in the online travel sector. As a potential attempt to regulate competition on an emerging market and to prepare up-to-come liberalization of the train transport upstream market, the essential facilities doctrine enforcement is of particular interest. Focusing both on the Conseil de la Concurrence decision terms and SNCF’s defence behaviour, we discuss the consistence of the decision with the national and European case-laws as well as the true consequences on competition dynamics on the train ticket distribution service (downstream) market.


Main Results :

  • Due to its public monopoly statute on the train transport market, SNCF holds and manages essential information (compiled in a database named Resarail) relative to train service and activities, such as available trains and seats, train schedules, adjacent services, etc.
  •  SNCF takes advantage of its monopoly to leverage its market power from the upstream train transport market to the downstream train ticket distribution service market in which SCNF is vertically integrated.
  • The source of this anticompetitive advantage principally lies in the discriminatory conditions in which SNCF grants access to Resarail depending on whether the demanding firm is a traditional travel agency or an online one. Actually, only the latter had to deal with an additional interoperability protocol interface (Ravel) to access the same essential information.
  • SNCF’s conduct is likely to distort competition on the downstream market since none direct rival is able to align itself with SNCF’s own online travel agency (voyages-sncf.com) retail prices. Consequently, the French Conseil de la Concurrence orders SNCF to share essential information on a non-discriminatory basis.
  • Commendable as the essential facilities doctrine implementation may seem in this case, the decision does not appear likely to strengthen competition in the downstream market yet.
  • SNCF’s commitments – accepted by the French antitrust authority – might be seen as particularly skilled to preserve voyages-sncf.com competitive advantage, especially the “first-mover” and the “reputation” ones. Because voyages-sncf.com has become the (downstream) market standard in the meantime, one could ponder the terms and timing of the decision and fear that, perhaps, “damage is done”.