French mobile operator Bouygues Télécom is remaining tight-lipped ahead of today’s expected ruling in the EU courts concerning the legality of the French government’s decision in 2003 to reduce the 3G licence fees paid by rival cellcos Orange France and SFR. As the EU court readies itself to make a judgement on whether France has violated EU aid rules, a spokeswoman for Bouygues would only say: ‘We have no clue about what the court decision will be tomorrow, and we usually never comment on this kind of decision.’ Bouygues Télécom has appealed a European Commission ruling of July 2004 which decided that the retrospective reduction for UMTS licences awarded to Orange and SFR in 2001 did not break the law. Bouygues has long argued that the decision ‘had a real effect on competition’ by gifting Orange and SFR time to further consolidate their dominant positions in the domestic mobile market, particularly where the launch of 3G was concerned, in what was seen as an uncertain market.
Late breaking news***
Reuters reports that the Luxembourg-based Court of First Instance today threw out Bouygues’ appeal. The court ruling says: ‘The Commission could … despite the attribution of identical condition to the winners of the different selection procedures, consider … that the new system of payment was not discriminatory towards Bougues’.