The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) provisionally clears BT’s acquisition of EE.
BT Group plc (BT) and EE Limited (EE) are large telecommunications companies in the UK. They operate largely in separate areas with BT strong in supplying fixed communications services (voice, broadband and pay TV), EE strong in supplying mobile communications services, and limited overlap between them in both categories of service. BT (including Openreach) also provides many fixed services to other communications providers, including backhaul services to mobile communications providers such as EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. These backhaul services connect radio masts to core networks. EE also provides wholesale mobile services to other mobile service providers.
The CMA inquiry group has been looking at how the tie-up would affect competition in a number of different areas of the telecoms sector. As well as looking at how the merger might affect competition for services to consumers which both companies currently provide, the group has considered whether it might alter the merged company’s incentives to continue to supply services to other communications providers on a wholesale basis.
After looking in detail at different markets – including the supply of retail mobile, wholesale mobile, mobile backhaul, wholesale broadband and retail fixed broadband services – the group hasthat the merger is not expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition (SLC) in any market in the UK.
John Wotton, Inquiry Chair said:
We recognise that this is a merger which is important to many consumers and businesses. We have heard a number of concerns from competitors. After a detailed investigation, our provisional view is that these concerns will not translate into a competition problem in practice.
We provisionally think that the retail mobile market in the UK, with 4 main mobile providers and a substantial number of smaller operators, is competitive. As BT is a smaller operator in mobile, it is unlikely that the merger will have a significant effect on competition. By the same token, it is unlikely that the merger will have a significant effect on competition in the retail broadband market, where EE is only a minor player.
We have also been looking at the ways in which, as a merged company, BT/EE might try to disadvantage competitors which it supplied with services such as backhaul, wholesale mobile or wholesale broadband services. We have provisionally found that in some areas it is unlikely that they would have both the ability and incentive to do so – and in others that the effects of their attempting to do so would be limited.
Having considered all the evidence, the group does not provisionally believe that, in a dynamic and evolving sector, it is more likely than not that BT/EE will be able to use its position to damage competition or the interests of consumers.
The inquiry group has considered 10 areas of concern (or theories of harm) outlined in the issues statement published in July. The group is unanimous in provisionally finding no SLC in relation to all but one of the markets reviewed. In relation to the wholesale mobile market, the group is evenly divided over whether the concerns it investigated gave rise to an SLC. However, a finding of SLC requires a two-thirds majority of the group, and therefore no SLC has also been found in relation to that market.
We have only considered Openreach to the extent it is relevant to issues arising from the merger. We are aware of concerns voiced recently about Openreach and wider concerns are currently being considered by Ofcom in their review of the whole telecommunications market.
The full provisional findings report will be published later this week on the case page along with all other published information relating to the inquiry.
The CMA has also extended the deadline for its final report by 8 weeks to 18 January 2016 (see notes to editors) to allow it to consider all responses to the provisional findings in detail before finalising and publishing its decision.
Anyone wishing to respond to the provisional findings should do so in writing, by no later than 5pm on 19 November 2015. Please email BT.EE@cma.gsi.gov.uk or write to:
BT/EE merger inquiry
Competition and Markets Authority