THE EUROPEAN Competition Commission has sent a letter to five of Europe's largest mobile operators asking whether meetings between them amount to collusion.
The European competition regulator has questioned Vodafone, Telefonica, France Telecom, Telecom Italia and Deutsche Telekom along with the GSM Association over meetings, the last of which was at Mobile World Congress. Although the European Commission has not opened a formal antitrust probe of the mobile operators, it shows how poor the relationships are between Brussels and the mobile operators.
While the European Union is trying to force mobile operators to lower extortionate roaming rates, the mobile operators are having to work out how to make money off data services. Although it is foolish to think the mobile operators are having a tough time - their handsome balance sheets clearly show otherwise - there is growing pressure within the telecoms industry to work together rather than compete.
The European competition regulator has taken a greater interest in mobile operators after France Telecom's CEO Stephane Richard suggested mobile operators meet and discuss strategy issues. Although the European Commission is requesting information confirming that no collusion is taking place, it is keen to stress that formal proceedings have not been started.
Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for Europe's competition regulator told Reuters, "The requests for information relate to the manner in which standardisation for future services in the mobile communications area is taking place. These fact-finding steps do not mean that we have competition concerns at this stage, nor do they prejudge the follow-up."
Mobile operators have previously reacted angrily to the European Union's attempts to lower prices for consumers, typically referring to the cost of providing data connectivity as being prohibative. However it is unlikely that consumers will have much sympathy for a bunch of companies that raked in revenues of well over €150bn in the past year. µ