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EU complaint filed over BT-AT&T operation

Is the joint venture starting prior to approval? Oh no, says AT&T

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AT&T's announcement earlier this week that it will be selling British Telecom Concert voice and data services to major US corporations has triggered a complaint to the EU. The two companies earlier this year announced a $10 billion joint venture in the same field, but this has yet to gain EU clearance. The European Commission won't reveal the source of the complaint, but it is likely to be Cable & Wireless. The complaint argues that the AT&T announcement represents the implementation of the proposed agreement before it has been approved -- the EU decision on this needn't be made until January. AT&T, a long-standing whinger in the halls of the Commission (sometimes about its new friend BT), denies that this week's deal has anything to do with the joint venture company, which it says has yet to be named. But this could be a tricky one to argue. The Concert services being offered are of course those which were previously sold by the BT-MCI Concert alliance. Having failed in its attempt to take over MCI, BT struck the joint venture deal with AT&T on the rebound. The joint venture intends to sell services to major multinationals in the same way that Concert, which is now a BT-only operation, did. BT Concert will provide a major component of the new -- definitely not going to be called Concert, no sir -- company. Worldcom got a jolly good smacking from the Commission before it was allowed to buy MCI, and if Brussels reckons AT&T is trying to pre-empt or circumvent its processes, the US giant could find itself seriously in the soup. ®

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