The proposed merger between Vodafone’s UK operation and Hutchison’s Three UK unit faces potential obstacles as Britain’s antitrust regulator expressed concerns that the tie-up could negatively impact consumers. Announced last year at a value of $19 billion, the merger would reduce the number of mobile networks in Britain from four to three, prompting the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to consider an in-depth investigation.

The CMA cited the importance of maintaining at least four networks to uphold competitive pricing standards. Consequently, it requested both companies to provide “meaningful solutions” within five working days to address concerns regarding potential price increases for consumers and businesses, as well as diminished investment opportunities.

Lawyer Tom Smith from Geradin Partners noted the complexity of the deal, indicating that clear-cut divestments may not be readily available to alleviate competition concerns. Therefore, it is likely that the merger will advance to the CMA’s phase 2 investigation, which could span 24 weeks and potentially be extended by eight weeks under certain circumstances.

The CMA emphasized the necessity of competitive pressure to maintain low prices and drive investment in the telecommunications sector. Despite claims from Vodafone and Three about the merger’s benefits for competition and investment, the CMA expressed skepticism, stating that there has not been sufficient evidence to support these assertions.

Julie Bon, the regulator’s Phase 1 decision-maker, underscored the importance of Vodafone and Three presenting viable solutions to address the CMA’s concerns. As part of the merger agreement, the companies committed to investing £11 billion ($13.87 billion) in 5G networks, aligning with the government’s objective to enhance Britain’s telecommunications infrastructure.

The companies argued that the merger would accelerate the rollout of new technology, thereby benefiting consumers. However, the CMA remains cautious, emphasizing the need for concrete evidence to substantiate these claims.

In summary, the proposed merger between Vodafone and Three faces regulatory scrutiny as the CMA raises concerns about its potential impact on competition and investment in the telecommunications market. The outcome of the investigation will hinge on the companies’ ability to address these concerns and provide compelling evidence to support their merger proposal.