T-Mobile and Orange merger in UK hits a snag

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The merger between mobile operators T-Mobile and Orange significantly threatens to decrease competition in the U.K market, the U.K. Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said on Wednesday.

The OFT asked the European Commission on Tuesday to hand it responsibility for reviewing the U.K. aspects of the proposed joint venture, it said. It expects the European Commission to make a decision on whether it can go ahead with its investigation within 65 working days.

At this point, the OFT doesn’t want detail what its concerns are, a spokeswoman said.

T-Mobile’s owner Deutsche Telekom is currently working with the U.K. Office of Communications (Ofcom), OFT and the Commission to iron out any concerns, according to Andreas Fuchs, a spokesman at the German operator, who also declined to discuss OFT’s concerns.

The companies’ goal is still to have the merger approved during the first half of 2010, Fuchs said. The deal was first announced on Sept. 8.

Orange’s parent company France Télécom didn’t immediately respond to requests for a comment.

The French operator is also involved in a second merger that has attracted the interest of local competition authorities. In Switzerland, Orange is planning to merge its local subsidiary with mobile operator Sunrise, which is owned by Danish operator TDC.

In December, the Swiss competition commission started an inquiry that could last up to four months into how the merger will affect competition in Switzerland.

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