Vodafone Ltd v Office of Communications, Court of Appeal - United Kingdom Competition Appeals Tribunal, September 18, 2008, [2008] CAT 22

Resolution Date:September 18, 2008
Issuing Organization:United Kingdom Competition Appeals Tribunal
Actores:Vodafone Ltd v Office of Communications
 
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2[2008] CAT 22IN THE COMPETITION APPEAL TRIBUNALCase Number: 1094/3/3/08Victoria HouseBloomsbury PlaceLondon WC1A 2EB 18 September 2008Before:LORD CARLILE QC(Chairman)DR ARTHUR PRYOR CBPROFESSOR PAUL STONEMANBETWEEN:VODAFONE LIMITEDAppellantsupported byBRITISH TELECOMMUNICATIONS PLCTELEFÓNICA O2 UK LIMITEDORANGE PERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS SERVICES LIMITEDT-MOBILE (UK) LIMITEDInterveners-v-OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONSRespondentsupported byHUTCHISON 3G UK LIMITEDIntervener_____________________________________________________________________JUDGMENT _____________________________________________________________________APPEARANCESMr. Tim Ward (instructed by Herbert Smith LLP) appeared on behalf of Vodafone Limited.Mr. Pushpinder Saini QC and Mr. Alan Bates (instructed by the Office of Communications) appeared on behalf of the Office of Communications.Mr. Aidan Robertson (instructed by BT Legal) appeared on behalf of the Intervener British Telecommunications plc.Miss Dinah Rose QC and Mr. Brian Kennelly (instructed by Baker & McKenzie LLP) appeared on behalf of the Intervener Hutchison 3G UK Limited.Miss Marie Demetriou and Miss Sarah Love (instructed by Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP) appeared on behalf of the Intervener Orange Personal Communications Services Limited.Mr. Meredith Pickford (instructed by T-Mobile (UK) Limited) appeared on behalf of the Intervener T-Mobile (UK) Limited.Miss Kelyn Bacon (instructed by Telefónica Europe plc) appeared on behalf of the Intervener Telefónica O2 UK Limited.I. INTRODUCTION1. This appeal is brought by the Appellant, Vodafone Limited (``Vodafone''), under section 192 of the Communications Act 2003 (``the CA 2003''). Vodafone appeal against the decision of the Office of Communications (``OFCOM'') to modify Part 1 and General Condition 18 of Part 2 of the General Conditions regarding number portability, as set out in Annex 2 to the concluding statement entitled ``Telephone number portability for consumers switching suppliers'' (``the Decision''), published on 29 November 2007.2. Number portability is the process which enables subscribers to a fixed or mobile network to retain their telephone number(s) when they change network operator. Portability for fixed line operators was introduced from 1997, whereas mobile number portability (``MNP'') was introduced in the UK in January 1999 because, at the time, the former telecommunications regulator felt that many consumers, especially businesses, were reluctant to change their communications provider if this meant having to bear the inconvenience and costs of a new telephone number. The process is referred to as ``porting'' (as is the transfer of calls from one network to another). Market research conducted by OFCOM during February 2007 indicated that of those consumers who had switched mobile provider in the last 12 months, 34% had ported their number.3. Under the current system for providing MNP in the UK, a customer of network A (``the donor network'') who wishes to transfer to network B (``the recipient network'') will first need to obtain a Porting Authorisation Code (``PAC'') from the donor network. Once the PAC is received, the customer can contact the recipient network and that network will then enter the PAC into the industry porting system, supplied by Syniverse. Before 31 March 2008, the donor network had five business days from this point in which to complete the porting process. This was reduced to two business days from 31 March 2008 by a statement published by OFCOM on 17 July 2007 (see section III below). Once the porting process has been completed, calls made to the customer's original mobile telephone number will be routed to the recipient network. However, under the existing system, calls to a ported number are still generally routed in the first instance to the donor network, which then onward routes the call to the recipient network.4. The Decision mandates the establishment of a database, to be populated first with ported mobile numbers but later extending to ported fixed numbers too (see paragraph [5], below), so as to enable any provider to route calls directly to ported numbers without the need to route the call to the donor network in the first instance for onward routing to the recipient. The process envisaged in the Decision to achieve direct routing is known as All Calls Querying of a Common Database (``ACQ/CDB'' or ``CDB''). According to OFCOM, the only change that would be necessary under the new system in order to ensure correct routing of a ported number would be a single change to the relevant record in the CDB. The Decision also requires that, with effect from the 1st September 2009, the porting process for mobile numbers should be recipient-led (i.e. a customer would only need to contact his or her intended new provider in order to begin the porting process) and that the length of time to complete the porting process should be further reduced from two business days to two hours. At paragraph 2.2 of the Decision, OFCOM state that they consider changes to the current regime are necessary at this time in order to ensure that consumers may derive the maximum benefits from number portability and are protected from the market failures which arise under the current regime.5. In terms of the timing of the direct routing aspect of the Decision, paragraph 1.9 provides: ``Ofcom has concluded that the costs of deploying [the CDB] solution will be outweighed by the benefits if direct routing is implemented by fixed networks as and when they deploy Next Generation Networks (``NGNs''). Mobile networks are already capable of interrogating databases on a call by call basis to determine how calls to ported numbers should be routed. The implementation challenges faced by providers of fixed services and mobile services are, therefore, different and the timetable which Ofcom is mandating reflects this.''The Decision mandates that communications providers (both fixed and mobile) use all reasonable endeavours to establish a CDB ready to be populated by data as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, no later than 31 December 2008. Once established, the CDB must be populated with: (i) all ported mobile numbers as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, no later than 1 September 2009; and (ii) all ported fixed numbers as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, no later than 31 December 2012.6. The Decision also has implications for the current system of mobile call termination in the UK, which is the process of connecting a voice call from the network from which a call is made (``the originating network'') to the recipient network. Under arrangements entered into between mobile network operators (``MNOs''), the terminating network operator makes a charge for each call terminated on its network, known as a mobile call termination charge. Disputes over the rates charged in the mobile industry were the subject of consideration by the Tribunal in a number of appeals against determinations of OFCOM under the dispute resolution powers contained in section 185 of the CA 2003 (see, for example, Hutchison 3G UK Limited v Office of Communications (Termination Rate Dispute) [2008] CAT 12 and [2008] CAT 19). Given the system of onward routing that is currently followed in the industry, it is the donor network, rather than the recipient network, whose mobile call termination rate is charged to the originating network. The donor network passes the call termination charge received from the originating network to the recipient network after deducting a charge to compensate the donor network for its costs in routing the call. This charge is known as the donor conveyance charge (``DCC''). Under the arrangements set out in the Decision, the originating network would pay the recipient network's call termination charge directly, as the call would no longer be routed via the donor network in the first instance. The DCC would therefore no longer arise. An appeal relating to a dispute between T-Mobile and H3G over the appropriate level of the DCC is currently pending before the Tribunal (Case 1093/3/3/07 T-Mobile (UK) Limited v Office of Communications (Donor Conveyance Charge)).7. In order to avoid unnecessary levying of the DCC (in addition to other costs and technical inefficiencies associated with onward routing), certain MNOs have set up a system known as ``call trap''. Under this system, calls made by a network's own subscribers to a number that has been ported into the same network are not routed out to the called number's original donor network for subsequent onward routing back to the network. Instead, the network routes (or ``traps'') the calls on-net directly to the ported-in customer, thereby avoiding the extra costs associated with onward routing.8. The appeal is brought by Vodafone under section 192(1)(a) of the CA 2003. Following receipt of the Notice of Appeal and publication of the summary of the appeal on the Tribunal's website, a number of applications for permission to intervene were received. At a case management conference held on 31 March 2008, British Telecommunications plc (``BT''), Orange Personal Communications Services Limited (``Orange''), T-Mobile (UK) Limited (``T-Mobile'') and Telefónica O2 UK Limited (``O2'') were granted permission to intervene in support of Vodafone. Hutchison 3G UK Limited (``H3G'') were granted permission to intervene in support of OFCOM. The main hearing was held from 18 to 20 June 2008.9. For the reasons set out below, the Tribunal is unanimous in finding that the appeal brought against the Decision is well founded.II. Legislative Framework10. Regulation of electronic communications across the European Union is based on the European Common Regulatory Framework (``CRF''), which was promulgated in April 2002 and had to be implemented into domestic law by the Member States by July 2003. One of the instruments comprising the CRF is Directive...

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