Three objects to UK m-pay scheme

Michael Carroll
09 Sep 2011

A trio of UK operators face an uphill battle to secure European Commission (EC) approval for a proposed mobile payments joint venture, following a challenge by rival Three UK.

The carrier met with EC representatives in Brussels yesterday to voice its concerns over the joint venture, and says it will submit a detailed response once the operators involved – O2, Vodafone and EverythingEverywhere – make a formal submission to competition authorities.

“The planned and explicit exclusion of Three from the proposed UK mCommerce joint venture is designed to weaken Three’s ability to be a competitive force in the UK and denies the initiative’s claimed ambition to be a ‘One Stop Shop’ for mCommerce,” Three UK’s regulatory affairs director Stephen Lerner says.

“Instead of competing for the benefit of consumers, the three operators that hold 90% of the UK market have engaged in a cosy collaboration and closed ranks against competition. The Competition authorities in Brussels should not allow this type collaboration to go forward under any circumstances.”

Predictably the three operators claim there is no merit to Three’s claims, noting that the technology will be available to all once the scheme is up and running.

“The fact that other companies are not shareholders in the venture has no impact on their ability to benefit from the technology it will develop,” a joint statement from the trio reveals. The carriers add that they have already opened dialogue with the European Commission “and expect to have further discussions and make a formal submission later in the year.”

O2, Vodafone and EverythingEverywhere announced plans to form the payments venture in June. At the time, Informa Telecoms & Media principal analyst Guillermo Escofet told TelecomsEurope the venture is about creating a single “point of access to service providers.” The carriers themselves say they will even use the technology developed to compete among themselves.

Three’s challenge will present a tough call for the EC, which is already eyeing mobile banking services as a means of cutting the number of un-banked consumers in the region. It estimates up to 30 million consumers aged 18 years and over currently don’t have access to basic banking and payment facilities.

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