Plans by Telenet Group, a subsidiary of international cable television conglomerate Liberty Global (Liberty), to acquire Belgian mobile network operator BASE Company have been cleared by the European Commission (EC), with conditions designed to preserve competition in the Belgian wireless market. Announced in April 2015, the US$1.48 billion deal represents Liberty’s first-ever acquisition of a facilities-based wireless carrier. Owned 56.67% by Liberty, Telenet offers wireless services to 900,000 Belgian subscribers as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that leases network capacity from Mobistar, Belgium’s second-largest wireless operator. The proposed merger would give Telenet control of the network and 3.3 million customers of BASE, which is owned by KPN of the Netherlands and ranks as the third-largest provider of mobile phone services in Belgium. Upon completion of the transaction, Mobistar and the merged Telenet- BASE entity would each control 30% of the Belgian wireless market, with a 40% share to remain in the hands of current market leader Belgacom.
To win merger approval, Liberty has agreed to sell BASE’s share of Mobile Vikings, an MVNO that uses the BASE network, to Medialaan, a Belgian broadcaster. In addition to transferring a portion of BASE’s customer base to Medialaan, Liberty has also pledged to grant Medialaan access to the BASE mobile network on favorable terms and conditions that will enable Medialaan to establish itself and compete effectively as an MVNO. Emphasizing that, “without effective commitments, a merger of these two dynamic players would have significantly reduced competition,” EC Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told reporters: “we have made sure that [Liberty’s] merger with BASE will not reverse the trend of declining mobile prices in Belgium.”