Cellular network giant Vodacom has won a small victory in its R7bn bid to take over fixed-line operator Neotel. On Wednesday the two companies were granted access by the Competition Tribunal in Pretoria to confidential documents used in the Competition Commission’s investigation into the merger.
The documents were submitted to the commission by third parties, some of which had not given permission for the information to be released to Vodacom and Neotel.
Vodacom plans to acquire all of Neotel’s shares.
The merger was conditionally approved by the Independent Communications Authority of SA last month and soon after that the Competition Commission recommended to the tribunal that the deal be approved with certain conditions.
Steven Ambrose, the CEO of technology research firm Strategy Worx, said Vodacom and Neotel might have applied for the third-party submissions to prepare for the upcoming tribunal hearing, in which the parties may challenge the conditions to the merger.
The commission recommended a two-year restriction on Vodacom’s access to Neotel’s radio frequency spectrum.
The commission found “part of Vodacom’s primary interest in acquiring Neotel relates to the latter’s spectrum allocation”.
“The sooner (Vodacom) gets access to the spectrum, the sooner (it) will be able to roll out more advanced, more high-speed, data products,” Mr Ambrose said.
But Vodacom spokesman Richard Boorman said the parties did not intend to challenge these recommended conditions.
The waiting period was intended to allow policy makers to address the spectrum challenges in the industry, the commission said last month.
Fourteen respondents were listed in the application for the confidential documents, including the commission, the State Information Technology Agency, Vox Telecom, Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T-Systems International, and the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System.
None of the respondents opposed the application.
The tribunal gave Vodacom and Neotel access subject to confidentiality undertakings. Its hearings start in November.
ROXANNE HENDERSON (BDLIVE.CO.ZA)