The Committee for Economic Development is asking the States to approve the use of a specific and time-limited exemption to the Competition Law that will facilitate Airtel exiting the Channel Islands telecoms market through being acquired by Sure.
In its policy letter, published today, the Committee explains the acquisition will secure significant benefits for consumers and the island as a whole, including:
- Substantial investment by Sure:
- £7m direct Guernsey investment on network infrastructure; radio masts that transmit and receive the signals from mobile devices
- £30m in a new core network serving the Channel Islands, to improve network quality – increasing data speeds, expanding coverage and improve call quality.
- A binding commitment to establish a 5G-enabled network;
- Enhanced network security;
- Reduced environmental impact as the improvements will be achieved with fewer mobile tower sites, with a reduction of one third on current numbers;
Guernsey’s Competition Law includes a mechanism that makes it possible for the States to agree to make a specific and time-limited exemption, as it recognises that there may be occasions when the Guernsey Competition and Regulatory Authority (GCRA) has concerns from a competition perspective, but when there are compelling wider benefits which mean the government might enable a transaction to take place.
The Committee, which has engaged extensively with the GCRA, believes that Sure’s planned acquisition of Guernsey Airtel Limited is such an exceptional circumstance. Guernsey Airtel has signalled its intention to exit the local telecoms market and this acquisition ensures millions of investment from Sure that will benefit consumers and the island as a whole.
To address any potential impacts on consumer outcomes and choice, the Committee has secured binding commitments from Sure which address the lessening of competition when the number of operators decreases. The Committee has proposed these binding commitments based on the advice it has received from the GCRA.
Deputy Neil Inder, President of the Committee for Economic Development, said: “Sure’s plans included potential investment worth tens of millions of pounds in infrastructure to improve network quality and services and subject to States agreement and GCRA licensing in the future, to introduce a 5G network. This creates binding commitments on that investment, while meeting telecoms security standards faster, and while also reducing the number of mobile towers compared to what we have now.
“If the States approves the exemption, it will mean that Airtel exits the market in an orderly way with consumer protection and competition conditions in place. The commitments from Sure secure the best possible outcomes for consumers and guarantees large-scale investment in Guernsey. The Competition Law includes a mechanism for the States to provide an exemption exactly for this kind of scenario, where the wider economic benefits outweigh any concerns around the impact on competition within the market.”
Alistair Beak (pictured), Sure Group CEO, said that the deal will futureproof Guernsey: “If our acquisition of Airtel is approved by the States of Guernsey then we’re looking at a game changer for connectivity.
“Everything we do today, from education to business to connecting with each other, is built on a foundation of high-speed, reliable networks, so this will support islanders’ increasingly digital lives.
“The level of potential investment in 5G, alongside the fibre network being rolled out right now, will benefit the island’s economy for the next decade and beyond with greater reliability and gigabit speeds for all. Our ambition is to futureproof Guernsey, keeping our islands connected and at the forefront of global technology.
“Consumers will not only benefit from gigabit networks, if the acquisition is approved, but also from a series of legally binding promises that commit Sure to provide great value, improved services and security, and facilitate fair competition.”
The acquisition also needs regulatory approval in Jersey to go forward. The process in Jersey is being managed by the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority (JCRA), and the Committee has liaised with the JCRA throughout its own process.