An investigation found BT’s network arm broke the rules during a bidding process against Eir for a public sector contract between 2017 and 2018

Ofcom has dealt BT a £6.3 million fine today after an investigation found that the company had breached the rules in securing a public sector contract in Northern Ireland between 2017 and 2018.

Both BT and Ireland’s Eir competed for the Northern Ireland Public Sector Shared Network contract, which was at the time valued at around £50 million over 9 years, with the potential to grow to around £400 million in the future depending on progress. After around a year of back and forth, the contract was ultimately awarded to BT in March 2018.

However, Eir would complain to Ofcom about BT’s conduct during the tender process, leading to an investigation by Ofcom that began in April 2019.

Today, in the conclusion of this investigation, Ofcom has ruled that BT indeed did break the rules during this tender process by not providing Eir with the same information about its Fibre to the Premises on Demand (FoD) product as it did its own bidding team. Eir was told by BT that FoD was an unsuitable solution for the bid, while the bidding team itself was told that it was indeed suitable and could be delivered at scale. Information was also withheld regarding pricing and costs of the product.

As a result of this misconduct, Ofcom has handed BT the £6.3 million fine, which was originally set to be around £10 million, but was reduced by about a third with BT’s acceptance of full liability. 

It should be noted, however, that it is unclear if this misconduct ultimately affected the tender process in a significant way and that BT did follow compliance processes to try and ensure that the two bidding parties were treated equally. As a result, Ofcom says that they “do not believe that the breaches we have found were deliberate.”

BT accepted and apologised for their error, with a spokesman saying: "We regret the level of service we provided to this communications provider during this tender process in Northern Ireland. We’ve cooperated with and accepted Ofcom’s findings and have already put measures in place to prevent this happening again. We also continue to review how we can improve our service. Ofcom recognises that these errors weren’t deliberate and that we took a number of steps to comply with the regulatory obligations. Based on Ofcom’s decision, we don’t believe this impacted the tender outcome.”

Eir disagrees, however, saying they would have won the contract had BT not acted improperly. 

"eir Business Northern Ireland welcomes today’s decision by Ofcom that BT unduly discriminated against eir in tendering for the Northern Ireland Public Sector Shared Network contract. The size of the fine imposed by Ofcom on BT illustrates the gravity of BT’s behaviour," said Philip O’Meara, Regional Director eir Business Northern Ireland. “We firmly believe that had BT complied with its regulatory obligations, we would have retained the NIPSSN contract. We are considering our options in light of today’s decision and BT’s admission of liability. eir Business Northern Ireland is keenly committed to its customers and to ensuring a fair and competitive market place for telecoms services.” 


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