The European Commission (EC) suspended its investigation into Orange’s €3.4 billion bid for Jazztel, a Spanish cable operator, apparently on the grounds that not enough detail has been provided on what the merger might mean for consumer prices.
“The clock has been stopped because the parties did not provide a relevant piece of information,” said a commission spokesperson by email, quoted by various media outlets.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the investigation ground to a halt as early as 4 March.
Although no details were provided by the EC spokesperson as to why the inquiry was stopped, it seems that consumer pricing is still a sticking point.
Orange executives attended an “oral hearing” earlier this week, seeking to convince anti-trust regulators that its purchase of Jazztel would not hit customers in the pocket.
The hearing, reports WSJ, was attended by EC anti-trust regulators and officials from national competition authorities in France, Spain, Italy, Britain and Romania, as well as executives from mobile operators Vodafone, Yoigo and Masmovil.
The European Commission had previously set an April 30 deadline for its decision.
This is not the first time that the EC has called a halt in proceedings. The merger inquiry was stopped for a week in January as regulators were apparently waiting for answers to as many as 60 questions. The commission, at the time, said it was concerned “that the proposed transaction may lead to a significant loss of competitive pressure for fixed internet access services and fixed-mobile multiple play offers”.
On 6 March, two days after the merger investigation was reportedly suspended for the second time, Orange made various undisclosed commitments to the EC regarding its acquisition of Jazztel.
If the takeover goes ahead, it will create Spain’s second-biggest fixed broadband operator and strengthen Orange’s position in the mobile market, where it is in third spot, behind Telefonica and Vodafone.