Orange and Euskatel battle for Basque mobile subs

16 Oct 2006

France Télécom España (FTE), which recently brought its fixed and mobile businesses under the Orange brand name, is engaged in a bitter feud with regional operator Euskatel over ownership of the 460,000 customers of the pair’s joint venture mobile business. Euskaltel is the largest alternative provider of fixed line telecoms service in the autonomous Basque region of northern Spain. In 1997 it struck an agreement with FTE (then known as Amena) to brand all FTE’s mobile services as Euskaltel Móvil in the Basque region. FTE took a stake in Euskaltel in return and the service was launched in January 1998. The agreement expires in early 2007 and the two companies were thought to have been in discussion to extend it and collaborate on the launch of 3G services. However, last month Euskaltel instead signed an agreement with FTE’s rival Vodafone Spain. The Vodafone agreement will replace the FTE deal and allow for Euskaltel Móvil to operate MVNO services nationwide over Vodafone’s network from January 2007. Euskaltel Móvil wants to transfer all 460,000 of its current customers to Vodafone’s infrastructure at that date, but FTE claims it has rightful ownership of the subscriber base and it wants them transferred to its Orange service, which it recently launched in the Basque region. Euskaltel has appealed for the Telecommunications Market Commission (CMT) to intervene, but the regulator has yet to comment.