Monday, 18 October 2021

BT urges CMA to pull the plug on Cellnex tower deal

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Thursday 23 September 21

The operator has submitted a response to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into a deal that would see infrastructure giant Cellnex absorb all of CK Hutchison’s UK telecoms towers

Neutral host specialist Cellnex has been making enormous tower purchases in various European markets over the last couple of years, the largest of which was an agreement with CK Hutchison in 2020 to acquire all of their European towers for roughly €10 billion.  In many of the various European markets involved, the transfer of assets has already been concluded with relatively little regulatory interference…

Neutral host specialist Cellnex has been making enormous tower purchases in various European markets over the last couple of years, the largest of which was an agreement with CK Hutchison in 2020 to acquire all of their European towers for roughly €10 billion. 

In many of the various European markets involved, the transfer of assets has already been concluded with relatively little regulatory interference, including in Italy, Austria, Denmark, and Ireland. 

In the UK, however, the CMA has raised concerns that the transfer of CK Hutchison’s (i.e., Three’s) roughly 6,000 mobile towers to Cellnex would leave them in an overly dominant position in the market. Cellnex is already the largest neutral mobile tower player in the UK and the addition of Three’s towers would make their cement their market dominance even further. 

The CMA’s Phase One investigation began in May 2021, concluding in July that further investigation was needed, arguing that CK Hutchison could have sold their towers to an alternative buyer, rather than the market leader Cellnex. 

Today, BT Group has weighed in on the matter, submitting a response to the CMA as part of the Phase 2 investigation, arguing that the deal will allow Cellnex an unassailable negotiating position over the use of its infrastructure, with little competitive incentive to offer reasonable prices.

As one Cellnex’s largest customers in the UK, BT suggests that allowing the deal would create “serious competition concerns that will adversely affect the supply of access to developed macro wireless telecommunications sites and ancillary services to BT and other UK wireless communication providers”. 

According to BT, the deal will “inevitably lead to higher prices for the services offered by Cellnex to BT and other UK wireless operators”.

BT also suggests that their joint venture with Three, the Mobile Broadband Network, will be adversely affected by the deal, making it hard for them to use it to roll out 5G services. 

Of course, Cellnex has argued in the past that the deal is anything but anti-competitive in nature, since it will open up a large portion of the UK’s tower infrastructure for use by multiple parties. 

The CMA’s final decision is expected in January 2022. 

 

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