Competition Policy Issues in Mobile Network Sharing: A European Perspective
Mobile network sharing is a type of cooperation between mobile network operators to jointly use, manage, and/or develop some of the network inputs required for their operations. The idea of sharing arises among operators principally as a way of reducing the considerable costs of network development but can also be motivated by the goal of enhancing coverage, speeding up the rollout of new networks, pooling spectrum for enhancing efficiency, or fulfilling licence commitments. Their clear advantages have made network sharing increasingly widespread, with 17 active agreements in place in the European Union at the end of 2018. However, since the parties are direct competitors, the concern emerges that these agreements could potentially lead to a restriction of competition. Assessing this potential restriction of competition—taking into account the ever-increasing complexity of mobile networks and the diverse forms the specific agreements take—is a significant challenge. This paper offers a framework for the competitive assessment of network sharing agreements (NSAs), beginning with identifying the relevant markets; detailing the possible concerns (theories of harm) that may arise and giving pointers with regard to the main factors that influence their seriousness; and, finally, the principles of assessing the efficiency benefits they bring.