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Time running out for OFT T-Orange intervention

Or it'll be over to EU

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The FT reports that the Office of Fair Trading is about to grab the T-Orange investigation, though the regulator still has two days to make the decision.

According to the report, the OFT will today formally petition the European Commission to have the case referred. This will allow local evaluation of how the merger of T-Mobile and Orange will impact the UK mobile market, with a view to what restrictions should be placed on such a merger.

That would be a blow to the companies who are merging, who were hoping that an EU-level investigation, with its 90-day turnaround, would wave through the merger with minimal concessions on either side. But, conversely, it would be a victory for the competition, who'd like nothing more than a lengthy investigation during which Orange and T-Mobile are effectively paralysed in the UK market.

The OFT has been consulting on if it should request control of the investigation since the middle of January, It received numerous submissions before the deadline of the 21st, since which the matter has been under consideration. That consideration can only last until Friday, after which the EU will start its own investigation and the UK's OFT will effectively be cut out.

Regardless of who handles the investigation, it's clear that T-Orange will have to hand over some radio spectrum - which is why the companies have been declaring that they'd never do such a thing. This means that Ofcom can't auction off any of the Digital Dividend until this matter is resolved, so it's not just the mobile phone industry that's hanging on the line. ®

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