updated 09:55 am EDT, Wed March 14, 2012
EU worried top carriers keeping prices high
Possible slips may have revealed the first stages of a possible European Commission investigation into the continent's top five carriers. The FT heard from sources that Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile), France Telecom (Orange), Telecom Italia, Telefonica (O2), and Vodafone were under scrutiny for a series of "E5" meetings on the state of the industry. Concerns existed that they had used the discussion to possibly collude on prices and policies, hurting competition.
Among the subjects at the meetings was the "challenge" Google's Android and Apple's iPhone provided for mobile OS competition, as well as the subject of standardizing NFC-based mobile payments. One of the early meetings resulted in a letter to the Commission's digital lead Neelie Kroes complaining about American sites like YouTube creating strains on their cellular networks.
France Telecom had reflected this when it raised the idea of tiered data deals with Google that implied a possible site-based strategy, where access to some websites demanded more expensive plans. Companies like France Telecom and SK Telecom have been accused of trying to double-dip by charging content providers a separate fee just to stay connected, even though they already pay to get online and customers pay for bandwidth.
A full-fledged investigation hadn't begun. Probes, however, are usually the result of serious concern at the Commission and can be the preamble for more official procedures. The GSM Association, which promotes the cellular industry worldwide and hosts Mobile World Congress, had confirmed that it had been given a request for information by the Directorate General for Competition, but couldn't say what the details involved.
Carriers have sometimes presented a united front regardless of the meetings. They routinely object to EU roaming cost cuts that they believe would jeopardize prices. Meetings might have gone beyond simple objections to lower prices, however.