Hutchison Whampoa said it had ‘another fruitful exchange’ with the European Commission (EC) regarding its proposed takeover of O2.
Three’s owners met with the European regulator on Monday March 7 to discuss its acquisition of O2 from Telefonica. Also present at the meeting were representatives from UK mobile stakeholders.
The meeting came after a weekend when it was suggested in some media outlets that a rejection of the deal by the European watchdog could result in Hutchison reviewing its UK investment strategy. The ferocity of the debate surrounding the merger has been heightened in recent months following the approval of BT’s merger with EE. It has seen Ofcom CEO Sharon White publicly criticise the deal and Hutch MD Canning Fok come out to defend the takeover.
In a statement on the EC talks, Hutchison once again referred to the UK market promises set out by Fok in defending the deal it made at the start of February: ‘The hearing has given CKHH (CK Hutchison Holdings) the opportunity to have another fruitful exchange with the Commission and the Member States’ representatives concerning its proposed acquisition of O2 in the UK.
‘We are committed to providing UK customers with the best network and the best mobile service in the UK and have made three promises to UK consumers: not to increase prices for five years following the merger, to invest £5bn over the next five years, and to offer fractional shared ownership interests in our network to other meaningful competitors, thus ensuring choice and continued vigorous competition in the UK mobile market.
‘We believe our merger and these promises will make the UK mobile market truly competitive, which is the ultimate aim of our transaction.’
One area that has been critical to the debate for both sides has been the impact on the wholesale market. It’s been suggested on a number of occasions that TalkTalk would be interested in purchasing any spectrum that the two operators would be forced to give up in order for the deal to go through, while a number of MVNOs have previously come out in support of the deal – most significantly Virgin Media and Sky.
Another MVNO present at the meeting was Tesco Mobile, which stressed the need for a decision that would help brands like the supermarket to continue to grow: ‘Tesco's focus is on ensuring that consumers and their choices are championed throughout the process and that challenger brands such as Tesco Mobile can continue to grow, develop and deliver the best possible service to UK customers.’