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Telecoms Providers JT and Sure Broke Competition Rules on Guernsey

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021 (8:44 am) - Score 840
channel islands guernsey and jersey uk

The Guernsey Competition and Regulatory Authority (GCRA) has ruled that two of the English Channel island’s broadband, phone and mobile providers, JT and Sure, broke competition law by “attempting to illegally control” the provision of mobile networks in Guernsey, including the future introduction of 5G services.

Telecoms operators often have legitimate reasons for communicating and exchanging information with one another, but in this case, the GCRA noted that the exchanges they uncovered between the two aforementioned operators “were found to go well beyond legitimate purposes.”

NOTE: Guernsey is part of the British Isles and residents do have British passports, but the island is self-governing (i.e. a British Crown Dependency with its own financial and legal systems etc.).

The GCRA’s investigation found that, over a period of approximately a year, through repeated contacts and exchanges of information between them, JT and Sure privately developed a joint plan, without disclosing it to the regulator or the States, that would mutually benefit each in their home markets.

The operators also exchanged information on their commercial strategy for introducing next generation mobile networks (5G) at a “slower pace than that sought by the States of Guernsey.” In addition, both operators adopted a common “line to take” that they were working to achieve the objective of introducing that technology to Guernsey in line with, or ahead of, the UK, “while privately agreeing not to do so.”

The talks also touched on JT removing its mobile network infrastructure from Guernsey (in return for Sure doing the same in Jersey). The GCRA said that both operators then attempted to avoid concerns by using phrases like “network sharing” and “infrastructure sharing” to describe their objectives. Airtel, the second-largest mobile provider in Guernsey, was potentially affected as it shares masts with these operators but was not included in the arrangement.

GCRA Statement on Next Steps

The GCRA may make an order imposing a financial penalty on an undertaking which is found to have broken competition law. The Authority will be minded to impose a financial penalty where it finds a restriction of competition by object. It will therefore now consider whether it would be appropriate to issue a draft penalty statement to the Parties in respect of the by object infringement described in this Decision. In carrying out this assessment, the GCRA will follow the approach set out in its Guideline on Financial Penalties.

The CEO of Sure, Alistair Beak, told the BBC that they “absolutely disagree” with the decision and intend to appeal through the Royal Court. Similarly, JT said they are “fully committed to ensuring that the market is fair and open” and have greeted the decision with “concern and, frankly, surprise.”

It’s noted that, over in the neighbouring channel island of Jersey, the JCRA had also recently investigated the arrangements between JT and Sure for sharing network elements in connection with the roll-out of 5G services. By comparison, the GCRA investigation extended to all mobile network provision.

On 30th March 2021, the JCRA on Jersey announced that its investigation would be closed without a decision, in the light of certain steps JT and Sure had each made in relation to ensuring that any future sharing of network elements would be in compliance with the Jersey Competition Law.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two Authorities provides a framework for the working relationship between the JCRA and GCRA. It governs the basis for information sharing between the two Authorities on matters of mutual interest. If the JCRA has new evidence, it could choose to reopen an investigation.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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