BT and EE Merger - if we don't like it, we've got EIGHT DAYS to make some noise

Posted on 11/11/2015

We know you will have seen the headlines about the Competition & Markets Authority’s preliminary decision on the proposed BT/EE take-over.  I have to say it’s taken FCS a few days to get our head around how something so monumentally threatening can be seen as not raising any significant competition concerns. 

At least partly, it’s down to the CMA assessing the likely damage against market definitions which are 13 years out of date.  They come from the 2002 EU Common Regulatory Framework – drawn up at a time when WLR seemed like a novel idea, and about the sexiest thing you could do with a mobile phone was send a text.  Hardly the best basis, in our view, for determining the threats to the converged current and future communications market.    

The CMA have admitted comms is a complicated market.  So they’ve left the provisional conclusions open for comment.  Nominally until January 18.  But don’t be fooled by that final deadline:  the CMA confirmed to us yesterday that if we want to be taken seriously, we’ve got until 5.00pm on November 19 to make meaningful representations.  That’s eight days away, folks!

We know FCS and our colleagues at IMVNOx, the MVNO industry body, are not the only ones burning the midnight oil against this deadline.  The Skys, the TalkTalks and the Vodafones are all poring over the findings and briefing lawyers as I write.  And FCS will be doing everything we can to work with other voices, and to harness and focus industry push-back as the process moves forward.

But right here and now, we as an industry have eight days to make as much noise as we can.  If you are concerned about what BT merging with EE will mean to your business, make sure the CMA knows about it.  And please make sure your local MP knows about it as well.  That really isn’t as stupid an idea as it sounds:  so many MPs got so much grief on the doorsteps back in May about the quality of BT’s broadband roll-out in (especially) rural areas that they’ve even formed a new all-party group this Parliament to try and focus discussion and drive improvements.  

Business CPs are pushing on a more responsive door with policy-makers today than at any time since BT was privatised. CPs are local businesses, employing local constituents, and providing solutions that enable other local employers to grow, adapt and trade internationally.  Make sure your local MP understands your concerns.  A few well chosen questions in Parliament at this stage could mean the difference between success and failure.  Or, at least, the difference between no remedies or controls whatever and a new regulatory regime which will open up genuine wholesale market for mobile voice and data.  

To get you started, here is a (first rough draft) letter from the director of IMVNOx to Ed Vaizey, which introduces some of the arguments and concerns FCS and our colleagues are currently developing.  Please see this purely as a starter for 10 – we want to incorporate as many bullets as possible, from as many members as are interested.  So please feed your thoughts to Cathy and myself at any time.  And do, please, copy us in to any letters or e-mails between yourself and the CMA or your MP and/or MEP.  Please also find the summary report of the CMA’s provisional findings for your information.

If you need any help with contact details for your MP, by the way, please let us know and we’ll get back by return.   

Seriously, folks:  if this matters, we’ve got to show people it matters.  Just a few lines and a pithy bullet or two can make all the difference at this stage.  Please take the time and make the effort.

Chris Pateman

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