On 28 May 2020, the EU’s General Court (“GC”) annulled the European Commission’s (“Commission”) decision of 11 May 2016 in which the Commission had prohibited the acquisition of Telefónica UK (“O2”) by Hutchison 3G UK (“Three”). It is the first time the EU Courts interpreted the EU Merger Regulation in so-called “gap-cases”, i.e., concentrations in oligopolistic markets which do not result in the creation or strengthening of an individual or collective dominant position.

In the days following the judgment, a number of commentators already emphasised the importance of the GC’s ruling. This post intends to carry out a measured review of the judgment, assess the GC’s findings with respect to each of the Commission’s three theories of harm, and probe whether the judgment is indeed a landmark one.
Continue Reading The General Court Annuls the Commission’s Decision to Block the Acquisition of Telefónica UK by Hutchison 3G UK – a Landmark Judgment for EU Merger Control?

In his speech in Austin, Texas in 2019[1] and subsequent interviews,[2] the Chairman of the French Electronic Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority (ARCEP) and former general rapporteur at the French Competition Authority, Sébastien Soriano, suggested that it is no longer appropriate to apply the “Schumpeterian paradigm” to technology companies that he characterised as having reached “… a critical size making it unlikely that external innovation will reverse the situation”.

Since then, Mr. Soriano has spoken about addressing the market power of “prevailing platforms”(“plateformes structurantes”). Last week, ARCEP defined “prevailing platforms” in a strategic note “Prevailing digital platforms – Elements of reflection relating to their characterization”.[3] This strategic note effects the shift in approach that Mr Soriano proposed.

Taking into account the current definitions of digital platforms, ARCEP has defined “prevailing digital platforms” as follows:

online platform operators or operating system providers which, in particular because of their intermediation activity in accessing internet services and content, and because of their importance, are able to significantly limit the ability of users to engage in economic activity or communicate online”.

To determine whether a given operator falls within this definition, ARCEP has set out a set of indices (partly based on the criteria used by the European Commission to characterise operators with significant market power in the electronic communications sector).
Continue Reading The French telecoms regulator has entered the fray “prevailing digital platform”

The General Court dismissed the appeal by Groupe Canal + against the European Commission’s decision accepting Paramount’s commitments in the cross-border pay-TV investigation (T-873/16 Groupe Canal +). It held that territorial restrictions leading to a partitioning of the internal market could be considered as by-object infringements of competition law, thereby rejecting arguments of copyright law and cultural diversity as a justification under the facts in this particular case.

Continue Reading General Court dismisses appeal of the European Commission’s decision in cross-border pay-TV investigation (T-873/16 Groupe Canal +)

In November 2018, following an in-depth Phase 2 investigation, the European Commission (“Commission”) unconditionally approved the acquisition of Tele2 NL by T-Mobile NL, respectively the fourth and third largest players in the Dutch retail mobile telecoms market. The merged entity remains the third largest player in this market after KPN and VodafoneZiggo. This transaction is the first “four-to-three” telecom merger approved without remedies under Commissioner Vestager’s term, following earlier Commission decisions on four-to-three mergers in (i) H3G/Wind, where approval of a joint venture was conditional on the divestment of sufficient assets to allow a new MNO to enter the market; and (ii) Three/O2, an acquisition that was blocked by the Commission. It shows that there is no “magic number” for players in the telecoms market and that much will depend on the specifics of the merger.

Continue Reading “Four-to-three” mergers no longer taboo? The Commission unconditionally approves the acquisition of Tele2 NL by T-Mobile NL

On the 10th October 2018, BEREC (the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) launched its public consultation on the ‘Data Economy’. This comes at a time when different regulators are increasingly discussing the importance of big data, including the opportunities and risks that it brings about, how these may evolve, and how (and increasingly who should take the responsibility) to regulate. While the data protection and competition authorities have so far been most vocal in this deepening regulatory debate, the opening of this consultation represents a clear and decisive move by European telecom regulators to ‘throw their hat’ into the ring and get included in the discussion – and potentially future regulation – of Europe’s data economy.

All interested stakeholders, including public organisations, industry actors, consumers, associations, academics, financial advisers, and other stakeholders with expertise or interest in the data economy are strongly encouraged to have their say. BEREC’s consultation video can be accessed here, and the consultation is open until 21 November 2018.


Continue Reading IoT Update: BEREC launches public consultation on the ‘Data Economy’

The European Commission published its highly anticipated Communication Setting out the EU approach to Standard Essential Patents at the end of 2017, as part of a package to protect Europe’s know-how and innovation leadership (see Commission Press Release Intellectual property: Protecting Europe’s know-how and innovation leadership).

The first section proposes concrete measures to improve the transparency of standard essential patents (SEPs) exposure.  Whether or not the proposed measures are useful, it is not clear what impact they will have on the market as there is no legislative force behind them.

The second section, eagerly awaited by competition SEP specialists, deals with the interaction of SEP holders and licensees, and in particular the persistently hot topic of FRAND licensing and SEP enforcement. This section may be disappointing for those who were hoping for guidance on some of the more difficult aspects of SEP licensing terms.  While widely debated and lobbied between patent holders and users in the run up to its release, the Communication is silent on two key issues – “use-based licensing” and “licensing to all”.


Continue Reading The EU Commission Communication on SEPs: a workable resolution to patent wars in the EU, or more competition litigation battles ahead?

On 20 November, Covington hosted its webinar looking at developments in Net Neutrality and Zero-rating from both a US and a European perspective. Our presenters included ex-FCC Bureau Chief, Partner Matt DelNero from our DC office, and ex-DG Competition Head of Unit, Partner Kevin Coates and Senior Associate Siobhan Kahmann from our Brussels office. The webinar was well attended, with participants from all major jurisdictions around the world.

Continue Reading Covington’s Net Neutrality and Zero-Rating Webinar

On 27 October 2015, the European Parliament adopted the new Telecoms Single Market legislation without a number of proposed amendments relating to net neutrality.  As a result, while the Regulation requires Internet service providers (“ISPs”) to “treat all traffic equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender or receiver, content, application or service, or terminal equipment,” it provides for the following exceptions to this principle:


Continue Reading Rules on Net Neutrality and Roaming Charges Finally Adopted