Telecommunications company Floe Telecom has had another success in the Competition
Appeal Tribunal (CAT) in its action against regulator Ofcom. Ruling against
Ofcom the CAT has asserted the right to impose time limits on a competition
authority when referring a matter back for further consideration.
It started with the company complaining to the watchdog that much larger competitor
Vodafone was abusing a dominant position. By using GSM gateways, which enable
calls from rival mobile phone networks to be charged at the same rate as the
receiving network, Floe was making phone calls significantly cheaper for its
users. When Vodafone prevented this practice it was backed by Ofcom. Floe complained
to the CAT. By now Floe had gone into administration.
In a ruling last autumn the CAT sided with Floe and set aside the decision
of Ofcom that Vodafone was innocent of abusing a dominant position. It instructed
the watchdog to look at the issue again. When doing so it required that the
watchdog should complete the second enquiry within five months.
This latest CAT judgement concerns the procedural issue of the CAT forcing
the investigation to finish within a certain timeframe – does the tribunal
have the right to impose a timetable on Ofcom or any other regulator when referring
a case back? Ofcom argued that it did not.
The ruling declares that the CAT does indeed have this power. It is within
its competence to impose time constraints on regulators when reinvestigating
complaints and also to give other instructions about the handling of the investigation.