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Europe clears acquisition of mobile network operator BASE by Liberty Global

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The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of BASE, a Belgian mobile network operator, by Liberty Global.

The approval is conditional upon the implementation of commitments to ensure effective competition in the Belgian retail mobile market.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, stated: "We have made sure that Liberty Global's merger with BASE will not reverse the trend of declining mobile prices in Belgium in recent years. To maintain healthy competition in the Belgian mobile market, Liberty Global and BASE will sell part of their customer base to a new virtual mobile operator."

The transaction will bring together BASE, one of Belgium's three mobile network operators, with Telenet, a Belgian cable operator controlled by Liberty Global that also offers mobile services as a mobile virtual network operator.

The Commission's investigation revealed that BASE competes aggressively on the Belgian retail mobile market and has challenged other operators with attractively priced offers. Telenet has been an exceptionally successful mobile virtual network operator in Belgium and its mobile offers have contributed to bringing mobile prices down. Without effective commitments, a merger of these two dynamic players would have significantly reduced competition, with a risk of higher prices and less choice and innovation for Belgian mobile consumers.

The Commission also investigated concerns raised by competitors that, after the acquisition, Liberty Global would be able to exclude competitors from the market by bundling fixed and mobile services in packages. The Commission did not find these concerns justified. Indeed, the acquisition will not alter the market structure since Telenet already offers both fixed and mobile services

Finally, the Commission looked at whether the acquisition would result in worse wholesale access conditions for mobile virtual network operators in Belgium. The Commission concluded that the acquisition raised no concerns in this respect, since the incentives for BASE and Liberty Global to grant wholesale access to their network do not change with the merger.

The transaction was notified to the Commission on 17 August 2015. The Commission opened an in-depth investigation on 5 October 2015.

The commitments

To address the Commission's concerns, Liberty Global has committed to:

- sell BASE's share in Mobile Vikings, a mobile virtual network operator that uses BASE's network, to Belgian broadcaster Medialaan; and

- transfer part of BASE's customer base to Medialaan. BASE and Medialaan currently have an agreement under which BASE sells mobile services under the brand JIM Mobile, owned by Medialaan. Liberty Global will transfer the customers of the JIM Mobile brand to Medialaan.

Liberty Global has also concluded an agreement with Medialaan, giving the latter access to BASE's mobile network at conditions that will allow Medialaan to compete effectively as a full mobile virtual network operator.

The remedies adequately address the Commission's concerns since they ensure that a new mobile virtual network operator will enter the retail mobile market, to compensate for the loss of competition resulting from the exit of Telenet as an independent mobile virtual network operator.

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Tags: liberty global  base  european commussion  Belgium