Telecoms regulator Ofcom has fined BT £6.3m for breaking rules when bidding for a public sector telecoms contract in Northern Ireland.
The regulator said on Friday that BT’s network division failed to give the same information to rival Eir as it gave to the company’s own in-house team that was bidding for the same contract in 2017-18.
BT ultimately won the nine-year contract, which could be worth up to £400m.
The fine comes after Ofcom launched an investigation in spring last year into a complaint made by Eir.
BT and Eir competed for the contract to supply telecoms services to more than 150 public sector organisations in Northern Ireland, spanning 2,000 sites including schools and government departments.
Under Ofcom’s rules, BT’s network must treat all wholesale customers equally. The regulator says that most telecoms companies, including BT’s own customer-facing business, depend on access to the network.
In its probe, Ofcom found that BT’s network broke the rules by failing to give Eir the same information about its fibre-to-the-premises on-demand product as its own competing team.
Openreach, owner of BT’s network, told Eir that fibre on demand “was not a suitable solution for its bid and that it had delivery limitations”, Ofcom explained on Friday.
Meanwhile, the BT bid team “was provided information that suggested [fibre on demand] was suitable for major multi-site network upgrade projects”, the regulator said, and “could be delivered at such a scale”.
Openreach also “did not provide certain information to Eir on the same timescales and by the same processes as it did for BT”.
Openreach is still a part of BT Group but it became a separate legal entity in 2018 and is meant to act independently of its parent company’s commercial operations.
The regulator does not think BT’s breaches were deliberate. BT has admitted breaking the rules and agreed to settle with Ofcom, meaning its fine was reduced by 30 per cent.
In a statement, a BT Group spokesperson said: “We regret the level of service we provided to this communications provider during this tender process in Northern Ireland. We’ve co-operated with and accepted Ofcom’s findings and have already put measures in place to prevent this happening again.”
Based on Ofcom’s decision, “we don’t believe this impacted the tender outcome”, the spokesperson added.
Philip O’Meara, regional director of Eir Business in Northern Ireland, said his team welcomed Ofcom’s decision.
“The size of the fine imposed by Ofcom on BT illustrates the gravity of BT’s behaviour,” he added. “We firmly believe that had BT complied with its regulatory obligations, we would have retained the [Northern Ireland Public Sector Shared Network] contract.”
Shares in BT were down roughly 3 per cent on Friday to 131p. They have fallen a third in the year to date.