The European Union have given its official antitrust blessing to British mobile operator Vodafone, to acquire the European assets of American cable giant Liberty Global.

The Vodafone acquisition of the assets had been announced back in May 2018, but Deutsche Telekom, Europe’s largest telecoms provider by revenue and owner of T-Mobile, objected to the move.

DT’s chief executive, Timotheus Höttges, was quoted at the time as saying that any deal was “completely unacceptable”.

Liberty Global

But it seems that the European Union did not agree with DT – and after Vodafone offered concessions, it agreed to allow the deal to go ahead.

“The European Commission has approved, under the EU Merger Regulation, the proposed acquisition by Vodafone of Liberty Global’s cable business in Czechia, Germany, Hungary and Romania,” it said. “The approval is conditional on full compliance with a commitments package offered by Vodafone.”

“In our modern society access to affordable and good quality broadband and TV services is almost as asked for as running water,” explained Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy.

“We have today approved Vodafone’s purchase of Liberty Global’s business in Czechia, Germany, Hungary and Romania subject to remedies designed to ensure that customers will continue enjoying fair prices, high-quality services and innovative products,” she added.

Liberty Global (which also is the owner of Virgin Media) and Vodafone first held talks in 2015 but that resulted in no exchange of assets.

However in 2016, the two agreed to merge their respective operations in the Netherlands in a bid to take on incumbent KPN.

German challenge

Since that time Vodafone had been seeking to challenge Germany’s resident goliath, Deutsche Telekom, and last year it was revealed that Vodafone would acquire Liberty Global’s operations in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania for 18.4 billion euros (£16.1bn).

It should be remembered that Vodafone already owns the largest cable business in Germany after it acquired Kabel Deutschland for 7.7bn euros (£6.7bn) in 2013.

And now as part of the Liberty Global deal, it is purchasing Unitymedia, Germany’s second-largest cable operator.

In the UK in 2012 Vodafone acquired the struggling UK telecoms company Cable & Wireless Worldwide (C&WW) for £1 billion.

As part of its concessions to the European Union, Vodafone has pledged to give access to its merged network in Germany for Telefonica, to allay competition concerns.

It has also pledged not to contractually restrict access for broadcasters; not to increase the feed-in fees; and to continue to carry the HbbTV signal of Free-to-Air broadcasters.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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