Competition and Markets Authority

CMA seeks views on Vodafone’s merger with Three UK

Invitation to comment (ITC) is being launched before the CMA starts its Phase 1 merger investigation.

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is asking for market feedback on the impact that the merger of U.K. telecommunication businesses of Vodafone and CK Hutchison’s Three UK could have on competition in the country.

The British antitrust watchdog said it is providing an early opportunity for interested third parties to comment on the impact of the deal, before it launches a formal investigation once it has received the information it requires from the merging companies.

In June, Vodafon and CK Hutchison announced that they were merging their U.K. telecommunication businesses, Vodafone UK and Three UK, to create the country’s largest mobile operator.

Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the CMA, said:

Millions of consumers and businesses in the UK rely on Vodafone’s and Three’s mobile networks to stay connected.

We will be carefully considering how this deal may affect competition in the UK, which could affect the options and prices available to customers. We will also assess how it may affect incentives to invest in the quality of UK mobile networks.

This is an opportunity for those with an interest in this merger to let us know their views before we launch a full investigation.

The CMA’s remit, by law, is to assess the potential impact of a merger on competition. It cannot consider other potential effects that a merger might have, for example, on employment or access to personal data.

Any national security concerns would be a matter for the UK government, which may choose to intervene under the National Security and Investment Act if it finds concerns.

The CMA is now inviting views on the impact of the deal on competition to assist with its evidence gathering ahead of launching a formal investigation. Further opportunities to submit views will be provided once the CMA begins its formal Phase 1 investigation.

The CMA added that the four mobile network operators in the UK are — Vodafone UK, Three UK, BT Groups’ EE and Virgin Media O2.

In 2016, the European Commission blocked Three’s £10.25B takeover of O2 on grounds of competition, more than a year after the deal to form U.K.’s largest mobile phone operator was announced. One of the reasons was that deal would have reduced the number of network owners from four to three.