The Competition Commission of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa is currently investigating allegations of anti-competitive behavior involving telecommunications giants American Tower Corporation (ATC) and Airtel Africa.

The Commission has taken action in response to a complaint suggesting that collaboration between the two companies violates the competition regulations within the trading bloc.

According to Comesa Competition Commission (CCC) CEO Willard Mwemba, the investigation focuses on a potential violation of Article 16 of the Regulations by ATC and Airtel Africa within the Common Market.

Article 16 prohibits agreements that could impact trade between member states and have the objective or effect of preventing, restricting, or distorting competition in the Common Market.

The contested agreement involves a “strategic partnership” between Airtel and ATC, wherein ATC would develop new telecommunication sites for Airtel based on its green site specifications to reduce Airtel’s carbon footprint.

The complaint alleges that the deal involves Airtel committing to take up a specific number of ATC sites annually, and in return, ATC provides Airtel with a financial rebate, which is perceived as anti-competitive behavior.

The collaboration, announced in October 2022, was initially presented as a move to enhance connectivity in Africa, promote digital inclusion, and align with both companies’ carbon emissions reduction goals.

The partnership would entail ATC developing all of Airtel’s new connection sites in Kenya and Uganda (both Comesa members), as well as in Niger and Nigeria.

The CCC will thoroughly assess the conduct of ATC and Airtel to determine its impact within the Common Market and will take appropriate measures as outlined in the Regulations, according to Dr Mwemba.

If the investigation finds that the companies breached the competition requirements of the bloc, they may be required to cease the agreement, pay a fine determined by the Commission, or face both consequences.

Airtel Africa operates in seven Comesa countries including Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Seychelles, and Zambia.  ATC has operations in two Comesa Countries- Kenya and Uganda.

ATC specialises in developing and leasing telecommunication towers to mobile network providers.

gandae@businessdayafrica.org