Three's planned merger with O2 has been blocked by the European Commission. The deal, which was worth £10.3 billion, had been the subject of intense consideration by regulators.
European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that the deal, which would have seen the UK’s number of mobile providers drop to three, was bad for consumers.
She added that the acquisition would have left mobile customers with less choice and facing higher bills.
It comes after a string of reports over the past few weeks suggested that the merger was in jeopardy.
The UK’s own competition and markets authority (CMA) wrote to Vestager at the start of April urging her to put an end to the deal. The CMA also said it would hurt competition among the UK’s mobile networks.
A further report has suggested that Liberty Global, owner of Virgin Media, could be poised to swoop for O2 now that Three-owner Hutchison Whampoa has lost out.
Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries said it would be ‘strange’ if it didn’t consider making an offer for O2.
Such a move would be more in line with BT’s takeover of EE, which was waved through earlier this year by regulators.
Liberty merging with O2 could potentially offer consumers better ‘quad play’ packages, bundling mobile, TV, broadband and landline.