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European ISPs hit with antitrust raids

The European Commission's antitrust watchdogs have raided the offices of a number of European "internet connectivity providers".
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

The European Commission has carried out a series of raids on ISPs over possible antitrust breaches.

"The commission has concerns that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit the abuse of a dominant market position," the EC said on Thursday.

The "internet connectivity providers" in question operate in several countries in Europe and were raided on Tuesday, according to the EC. Local competition authorities were also present during the unannounced inspections.

While the EC declined to name the ISPs involved at this stage, Reuters reports that they include some of Europe's biggest telcos: Germany's Deutsche Telekom, Spain's Telefonica, and France's Orange.

Deutsche Telekom denied it is the "right target" for the EC's antitrust attentions.

"Deutsche Telekom is surprised by the initiation of further investigations by the commission into the global market for internet traffic, since previous allegations have all turned out to be unfounded. Similar investigations carried out by national regulatory bodies, who have also dealt with the issue in great detail, have also been abandoned. Deutsche Telekom faces fierce competition on the global market for internet traffic. This market is dominated by major providers based in the United States, which means we are not the right target for these investigations. Deutsche Telekom is cooperating closely with the authorities to clarify the matter," the company said in a statement.

An Orange spokesperson said: "A number of Orange premises are currently subject to inspection by the European Commission and these inspections could take several days to complete.  

(We've asked Telefonica for comment on the matter, and will update the story if any is forthcoming.)

"Orange is extending its full cooperation to the European Commission and at this point the group's working practices have not been called into question in any way. We are confident about the eventual outcome of this matter, given the French Competition Authority decision regarding Cogent which exonerated our group. The company's business activities are continuing as normal during the inspections."

Such raids are the first step in building an antitrust case against a company, but aren't a sign that any anticompetitive behaviour is definitely occurred.

"Internet players interconnect with each other through a combination of wholesale services to cover all possible internet destinations. Internet connectivity allows market players (eg content providers) to connect to the internet so as to be able to provide their services or products at the retail level. This service is crucial for the functioning of the Internet and for end users' ability to reach internet content with the necessary quality of service, irrespective of the location of the provider," the EC said in a statement, although it did not provide any details of which elements of antitrust law the company may have violated.

The raids come as the EC's digital agenda commissioner, Neelie Kroes, is aiming to bring in a single market for telecoms services in the EC by 2015, making it easier for telcos to operate across countries.

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