Legal Monopoly

A firm alone in the industry and shielded from competition by law

Author: Osman Ahmed
Osman Ahmed
Osman Ahmed
Investment Banking | Private Equity

Osman started his career as an investment banking analyst at Thomas Weisel Partners where he spent just over two years before moving into a growth equity investing role at Scale Venture Partners, focused on technology. He's currently a VP at KCK Group, the private equity arm of a middle eastern family office. Osman has a generalist industry focus on lower middle market growth equity and buyout transactions.

Osman holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Southern California and a Master of Business Administration with concentrations in Finance, Entrepreneurship, and Economics from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Reviewed By: Matthew Retzloff
Matthew Retzloff
Matthew Retzloff
Investment Banking | Corporate Development

Matthew started his finance career working as an investment banking analyst for Falcon Capital Partners, a healthcare IT boutique, before moving on to work for Raymond James Financial, Inc in their specialty finance coverage group in Atlanta. Matthew then started in a role in corporate development at Babcock & Wilcox before moving to a corporate development associate role with Caesars Entertainment Corporation where he currently is. Matthew provides support to Caesars' M&A processes including evaluating inbound teasers/CIMs to identify possible acquisition targets, due diligence, constructing financial models, corporate valuation, and interacting with potential acquisition targets.

Matthew has a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in German from University of North Carolina.

Last Updated:February 8, 2024

What Is A Legal Monopoly?

Legal Monopoly, also known as a statutory monopoly, describes a situation where a single entity holds exclusive rights within an industry, protected by law from competition. These monopolies can be solely government-operated, privately owned, or a combination of both, and they are typically established through various mechanisms such as:

  1. Public franchise
  2. Government license 
  3. Patent or copyright

This type of monopoly can be found in industries like electricity, water, telecommunications, or other goods and services that are often used by the general public. These companies are granted the right to be the exclusive provider of a product or service.

Legal monopolies are different from de facto monopolies, created by private companies rather than the government. Some of the largest de facto monopolies are Amazon and Meta.

Monopolies backed by the government are usually for the general benefit of citizens. Alternatively, monopolies created by private entities are usually for-profit and aim to kill competition.

Key Takeaways

  • Legal Monopoly is a firm shielded from competition by law, with exclusive rights in an industry, established through public franchise, government license, patent, or copyright.
  • They benefit citizens by providing specific products or services at regulated prices, but they can lack innovation and lead to customer exploitation.
  • AT&T, airlines, railroads, and broadcasting agencies are examples of legal monopolies, historically and currently.
  • Legal monopolies serve public interests, while de facto monopolies seek profit and eliminate competition (e.g., Amazon and Meta).

The motive behind a legal monopoly

Since it can provide a specific product or service at a regulated price, a legal monopoly is believed to be the best option for a government and its citizens. However, due to its nature, a monopoly is known to come with many disadvantages. 

This type of firm is notorious for its lack of innovation due to the lack of competition. Therefore, these businesses usually have high prices and lower output.

As a result, the customers, usually citizens, suffer from exploitation and bullying because they have no better option. 

The government may regulate pricing, supply the people with widely accessible services/goods, monitor business operations, and ideally move the monopoly to operate in customers' best interest. All this is to make the product or service the best option for a nation's government and residents.

Legal monopolies are common in the alcohol industry, as they can act as a source of government revenue. In addition, companies providing other addictive substances like opium and cocaine are under government regulation so that the use of these lethal drugs can be controlled.

How do legal monopolies work?

A legal monopoly arises when a government decides that permitting a single corporation to be the exclusive supplier of a service (or product) is in citizens' best interests. 

The idea is generally introduced to prevent multiple competitors from investing in their infrastructure. This allows one firm to take advantage of huge economies of scale, decreasing the price of the good or service for everyone. 

Because of the advancement of technology and the economy's evolution, the overall market balances out, allowing everyone to benefit. However, this might lead to a rise in prices. To prevent this from happening, the government may decide to regulate it themselves.

For example, a well-known legal monopoly is AT&T, which was created to provide citizens with cheap and reliable telecommunications services. 

Another sector heavily regulated by the government is public transportation, which is a key factor in every major global economy. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of legal monopolies

Legal monopolies are typically granted their exclusive rights due to the belief that they can deliver certain goods or services more efficiently, safely, or reliably than multiple competing firms could. But, as with everything else, legal monopolies have advantages and disadvantages for consumers and the economy. 

Some of the advantages are listed below: 

  • They can promote efficiency and economies of scale. When a single company controls the production and distribution of a product or service, it can optimize its operations and take advantage of bulk purchasing, leading to cost savings, resulting in lower prices.
  • Legal monopolies can foster innovation. With reduced competition, a company may have the financial stability to invest heavily in research and development, driving technological advancements and creating new products that might not be feasible in a more competitive market.
  • They can also eliminate market uncertainty. In industries with high initial infrastructure costs, such as utilities, having a single entity in control can provide stability in pricing and service, preventing market fluctuations that could arise from competing companies.

Notable disadvantages that warrant consideration are: 

  • They can lead to reduced consumer choice and potentially lower the quality of products or services. Without competition to incentivize improvement, a monopolistic company might not have the same drive to innovate or provide the best possible offerings, limiting consumer options.
  • Legal monopolies can result in higher prices. Since there's no competitive pressure to keep prices in check, a monopolistic company could exploit its position and charge consumers higher rates for goods or services.
  • They can stifle entrepreneurship and hinder economic growth. By discouraging new entrants into the market, they can impede the development of innovative startups and prevent healthy market dynamics that encourage efficiency and diversity of offerings.

Examples of legal monopolies

Airlines, railroads, and trading companies have commonly operated as legal monopolies throughout history. 

The earliest examples of legal monopolies are:

  • Dutch East India Company
  • British East India Company
  • Many other equivalent national trading enterprises

Exclusive trade rights were granted by their respective national governments. 

One of the most well-known examples of legal monopolies is AT&T Corp, which operated as a monopoly until breaking in 1982 due to US antitrust laws. In addition, until the late twentieth century, several nations monopolized national postal, telegraph, and telecommunications services.

Legal monopolies are also commonplace in the media industry, with the likes of broadcasting agencies such as BBC, RAI, and Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise. 

Other areas like sports also have legal monopolies with leagues like the National Basketball Association or Major League Baseball. These leagues are protected from competition, but they are exempt from antitrust. 

Education is also famous for having many legal monopolies like CollegeBoard. These companies are the exclusive providers of tests many people have to take to begin the next phase of their lives. These organizations are also exempt from antitrust.

Researched and authored by Huy Phan | Linkedin

Reviewed and edited by James Fazeli-Sinaki | LinkedIn

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