Today the Competition and Markets Authority published a letter to the European Commissioner calling for the merger of Three and O2 to be blocked to protect the consumer. I had to check that it was not written ten days ago, the current government believes in the Free Market and the market has shown that the UK is not large enough to support five and now four network owners.
If the CMA wanted to protect the consumer then was BT allowed to buy EE and why was it not forced to spin out Openreach?
The role of Ofcom should be to provide assurance that the market for Mobile Infrastructure is not manipulated by the players in the market and that they are fulfilling the terms of licences granted via spectrum sales by Government. The failure is not that Overseas Investors can no longer justify investment in an extremely competitive market but rather Regulators are under resourced and qualified. The 2010 spending review by George Osborne and subsequent budgets has seen the money available to manage Ofcom fall and the remit rise this means that a regulator that had been struggling now is not fit for purpose. Rather than resource the service correctly we have a Government that is taking others to undertake the role for it.
The second generation of mobile expansion saw just four networks build the industry at the fastest pace, with innovative product launches which the CMA now feels is a risk to the consumer! Alongside the network owners we also have a number of MVNOs that offer services to customers at a range of prices. We might have fewer retail options on the high street with the demise of a number of independent retailers for the time of mass adoption of mobile but we are unlikely too see price rises as a result of Three buying O2.
I hope that the European Regulator has far more economists than the CMA and Ofcom and realises that the UK consumer is not able to fund adequately four mobile network operators.