EU may probe into possible collusion by Europe's top operators

Europe's biggest operators could face an investigation by the European Commission (EC) antitrust unit into possible collusion.

In the first stage of a potential antitrust action, EC competition authorities have demanded access to information following discussions between the top executives of Europe's leading operators, according to the Financial Times. A formal EC probe has not yet begun.

The meetings, which involved Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Vodafone, were focused on industry issues ranging from the harmonisation of technology platforms such as mobile payments to the challenges being posed by OTT players as seen with Google and Apple.

The group, labelled the E5, met occasionally since being formed in 2010 but has now been disbanded with the GSMA taking over any work the group was conducting.

A source close to the situation who asked to remain anonymous told FierceWireless:Europe that EC authorities had been sent notes about the contents of the discussions, and was surprised by this request for further information given the presence of a lawyer at each meeting. Daniel Gurrola, vice president of strategy at France Telecom's Orange unit, told Bloomberg that lawyers from the GSMA attended each meeting to prevent anti-competitive discussions.

Axel Schulz, a partner at White and Case in Brussels, told the Financial Times: "While an information request or a dawn raid does not prejudge the final outcome in any way, chances are that a lengthy formal investigation may follow."

Following the first E5 meeting in Paris, the group had sent a private note to Neelie Kroes, European commissioner responsible for the EU's digital agenda, outlining their worries over the growth by bandwidth-hungry video traffic on their networks stemming from the big US technology developers. The note mentioned that the E5 group had been convened to devise a "common vision" for the digital world, with one aim being steps towards a phase of standardisation, together with greater competition in the smartphone market.

The GSMA has also been contacted by the European Union competition authorities with a request for information, according to Bloomberg. "We can confirm that we have recently received correspondence from DG Competition which we will respond to in due course," said Claire Cranton, the GSMA's spokeswoman, referring to the commission's Directorate General for Competition.

For more:
- see this Financial Times article (reg. req.)
- see this Bloomberg article

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