French watchdog rejects call to suspend Bouygues Telecom-SFR network deal

France's competition regulator L'Autorité de la concurrence has rejected calls by Orange to suspend a planned network-sharing agreement between Bouygues Telecom and SFR, saying the deal did not pose an immediate or serious threat to consumers or the sector.

"Nothing put forward by Orange indicates that there is a serious and immediate impact that would require the suspension of the agreement or its extension to 4G roaming, which remains limited in scope," the Competition Authority said in a statement on Thursday.

Orange told Reuters that it intended to appeal, while the Competition Authority also said it would continue to examine Orange's complaints. Orange has been particularly critical of the LTE roaming agreement that would allow SFR to use Bouygues Telecom's more extensive LTE network.

On Jan. 31 this year, Bouygues Telecom and SFR agreed to create a joint venture that would operate 11,500 sites covering 57 per cent of the population. The move would eliminate a total of 7,000 masts.

At the time SFR--which is in the process of being sold by Vivendi to Altice-owned Numericable--and Bouygues Telecom said the agreement would improve indoor and outdoor coverage and reduce costs by between €100 million ($127 million) and €200 million a year.

SFR CEO Jean Yves Charlier also said at the time that his company expected to save around €200 million a year from 2017-2018, while Bouygues Telecom said it expected to save around €100 million.

The process is expected to take until 2017 to complete. Each operator will retain total commercial independence.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this release from the French Competition Authority (in French)

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