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Virgin Media has called on Ofcom to use emergency powers to protect consumers, as the Premier League auctions off TV rights for 2016-17 and beyond.

The cable operator believes competition between Sky, BT and other potential bidders will drive the value of the rights from £3 billion under the current deal to £5 billion, and in turn, lead to higher prices.

Virgin Media wants to see the Premier League sell live rights to more than the 168 games per season currently up for grabs. It also wants some matches to be sold to more than one broadcaster, so that TV firms do not have exclusive rights to top-flight games.

Ofcom is already looking into the matter; however, Virgin Media says the regulatory process is moving too slowly. The watchdog is unlikely to reach a decision until March, but the Premier League rights are set to be auctioned off in mid-February.

Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, said: “The Premier League has pushed ahead with its early sale of TV rights despite Ofcom's investigation.

"With 18 months until those deals begin, there is plenty of time for Ofcom to pause the auction process while it completes its inquiries."

She claimed the failure to do so will leave fans, who already pay the most to see the least amount of football in Europe, facing "yet another big rise in the cost of watching live football on TV".

Ofcom said it had received Virgin Media's application for interim measures and would look to reach a decision within "a matter of days".

If the regulator believes the auction will cause significant damage to a particular person or category of person, it has the power to intervene under the Competition Act.

The Premier League has hit out at Virgin Media, saying the firm's "self-serving release" should have "no bearing" on the sale of the Premier League’s rights.

A spokesperson added: "The League's sales process will be conducted fully in compliance with competition law and there is no legal basis whatsoever for any interference with the sales process or the legitimate operation of the market."

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