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European Regulatory Spotlight: UK watchdog slams Three-O2 merger

In this bi-weekly feature,SNL Kagan provides a roundup of significant recent regulatory events in Europe.

PAN-EUROPEAN

*Microsoft has expressed support for the new transatlantic data  known as the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield. In an April 11company blogpost, Microsoft vice president for EU government affairs John Frank saidthey have reviewed the details of the agreement and is pushing for itsapproval. Frank added that the company will commit to transparency obligationsincluded in the framework regarding U.S. government requests for access toinformation. In terms of privacy complaints, Frank said the company willrespond within 45 days.

UKAND IRELAND

* The U.K.'sCompetition and Markets Authority has raised concerns regarding  unit Hutchison 3G UK's proposed acquisition ofTelefónica's British mobile operator unit O2. In a  to EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, CMAChief Executive Alex Chisholm said that the merger would hinder effectivecompetition in the U.K.'s mobile telecoms market. Chisholm added that theEuropean Commission's proposed remedies to the deal failed to address concernson, among others, network sharing arrangements. He urged Hutchison to eitherdivest Three or O2's mobile network in its entirety or allow limited carve-outsto form a fourth mobile operator.

* In response, CK Hutchison slammed the CMA's objections,Total Telecom reported on April 11. In a statement, Hutchison said that divesting eitherThree or O2 to a new MNO would defeat the merger's purpose and highlight thelimitations of both companies. The company added that its capacity deals withSky, 's , Tesco Mobile and UKBroadband offered remedies far beyond those proposed in other European telcomergers. Virgin Media CEO Tom Mockridge also defended the Three-O2 merger, saying that it would provide acounterbalance to the strength of the recently  and EE.

* EU antitrust chiefMargrethe Vestager said her office will not cease its probe into 's tax dealings inIreland, despite the company's announced intention tomove some of its $200 billion offshore cash back to the U.S., the Financial Times (London) reportedon April 10. The planned cash move reportedly has no bearing on the EU's taxinvestigation into Apple. Vestager declined to specify the amount Apple willpay if the EU rules against the company, as the probe is still , according to thereport.

WESTERNEUROPE

* Germany'sBundesliga football TV rights could be sold to just one broadcaster. Thecountry's Federal Cartel Office has not set conditions that prevent the sale of2017-2018 to 2020-2021 football rights to one buyer, Reuters Germany reportedon April 8, citing three people familiar with the negotiations. The move iscontrary to expectations of a planned "no-single-buyer rule" thatwould have forbidden the sale of rights to Sky Deutschland GmbH alone or another newcompetitor. In the U.K., Sky has toshare Premier League football rights with British Telecom.

* The German prosecution Staatsanwaltschaft Mainz reportedlylaunched an investigation into TV ZDF moderator Jan Böhmermann, following hisnow deleted poem attacking Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Meedia reported on April 6 that investigations have been launched to identifyinsults against representatives of foreign states. A criminal conviction insuch a case carries a sentence of up to three years in prison.

* Websites may link to other sites which offer illegallyobtained content, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice wrotein an opinion. The opinion refers to a lawsuit between website GeenStijl and Playboy magazine, reported De Tijd on April 7. In 2011, GeenStijl posted a linkto nude photos of the Dutch presenter Britt Dekker that were leaked to anAustralian website, without the consent of the Dutch Playboy publisherSanoma Corp. The Advocate General said that website administratorscannot always verify whether content on other sites is legitimate.

* The Norwegianinvestment company Ferd denies that there is any basis for claims from rapperJay-Z after he bought Norwegian music streaming service Tidal, Dagens Næringsliv reported on April 4. Jay-Z claims that his company ProjectPanther Bidco paid too much when it bought Tidal in 2015. The company accusesFerd, media group Schibsted, and the other sellers of seriousmisrepresentations and systematic errors, and has notified them that a majorclaim is coming.

SOUTHERNEUROPE

* Italian telecomregulator AgCom blocked TelecomItalia's plan to impose a 300% price hike on the price of basiclandline calls to Italian fixed and mobile numbers, Telecompaper reportedon April 4. AgCom reportedly said that Telecom Italia did not consider generaleconomic conditions or the purchasing power of Italians in enforcing the priceincrease. The hike, which was set to take effect April 1, was first announcedby the Italian operator in February.

EASTERNEUROPE

* Romanianstate-owned broadcaster Societatea Nationala de Radiocomunicatii SA could facefines ranging from 5,000 Romanian leu to 100,000 leu if the digital terrestrialtelevision network does not reach 90% of the population and 80% of theterritory of Romania by Dec. 31, Telecompaper reportedon April 8, citing HotNews.ro. The DTT network reportedly reached about 56% ofthe country's population in late 2015.

* Romania's Competition Council launched a probe into 's possible abuse of a dominant market position, Telecompaper reportedApril 4. The probe is in response to concerns about a potential discriminationby the Orange unit against companies active in the SMS payments andadvertising markets. As part of the inquiry, the regulator conductedunannounced inspections at the headquarters of Orange Romania and of some localSMS payment aggregators.