Vodafone takes Ofcom to court, or rather, to tribunal

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Aug 30, 2019

via Flickr © Beth Cortez-Neavel ( CC0 1.0 Universal )

via Flickr © Beth Cortez-Neavel ( CC0 1.0 Universal )

  • Vodafone is a competition champion... until it isn’t
  • Then it starts shouting ‘unfair’ when facing possible higher prices for fibre
  • Still, it’s not the only one. That’s telecoms 

It’s strange the role competition and free enterprise plays in telecoms: a sort of on-again, off-again substance that can at once be the lifeblood of the industry to be fostered at all costs to prevent us all from going to hell in a handcart; and simultaneously is alleged to cause the same industry to teeter on the edge of insolvency and therefore must be sensibly reigned in with the help of regulators, politicians, users and even unions, often to prevent a ruinous ‘race to the bottom’.

Both stances may be valid, but then again, both are very often deployed by the same people - depending on the circumstances. 

It’s an industry that just can’t make up its mind. Some who dwell within it (sadly getting fewer) fondly remember the ‘good old days’ before competition arrived. Things were better then (they must think) there was less stress, more certainty, more gentlemanly conduct and you could slip away to the pub on a Friday afternoon and nobody would notice.

Others cling to the liberating promise of rampant competition, deregulation and corporate freedom of action as the bringer of prosperity, growth and technological progress.

Many companies, being the sum of their human parts, are capable of looking both ways on this, seemingly without too much discomfort. 

Vodafone, for instance, would no doubt be amongst the first to champion competition and corporate freedom of action (deregulation) as a generalised ‘good thing’. Without them, as the original mobile telecoms challenger to the BT-backed Cellnet back in the early 1980s, Vodafone wouldn’t exist. It is, in every sense, a child and exemplar of competition theory as espoused back in the early 1980s. 

It hasn’t done too badly out of it, either. 

But sometimes, it seems, market forces and freedom of action aren’t good enough on their own. Regulation has to be applied or at least maintained, to stop one telco taking advantage of another.

So Vodafone is blowing away the enervating summertime blues by taking UK regulator, Ofcom, to court over its Business Connectivity Market Review which granted BT some extra regulatory leeway on its fibre pricing policy. 

Vodafone’s legal eagles allege that Ofcom has been hoodwinked by the BT-owned Openreach, and as a result its telco customers (like Vodafone) will have to cough up extra millions for Openreach’s business fibre connections. 

This has become especially important now that Vodafone is in the business of steadily adding fibre connections to its mobile masts to effectively roll out more bandwidth for 5G. 

Another operator, TalkTalk, is also pitching in with a similar complaint to the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal, which, as its name suggests, decides cases involving competition and  regulatory issues. No final decision is expected until at least the end of the year.

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