ACCC apologises, blames software for TPG-Vodafone blunder


The Australian competition watchdog has publicly apologised after it embarrassingly botched the announcement of a controversial decision to block Vodafone Hutchison Australia and TPG Telecom's $15 billion merger.

In a statement released on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s website on Thursday, the regulator said it had conducted an investigation and found the cause was a flaw in the website’s content management system.

The ACCC unexpectedly blocked the merger between Vodafone and TPG - with big consequences for the entire telco market.

The ACCC unexpectedly blocked the merger between Vodafone and TPG - with big consequences for the entire telco market.

When the ACCC uploaded the content into the draft version of the online mergers register, a third party attempted to see the webpage at the same moment it was updated and the content went live.

The details of the ACCC’s decision was inadvertently published on the website at 3pm on Wednesday last week – a day earlier than expected and while the companies were still trading – and remained on the site for about eight minutes.

After the information was made public, TPG’s share price fell 13.5 per cent wiping about $1 billion from its market value. Media notification of the regulator's decision to nix the merger was released after 3.30pm, with the reasons for its opposition to the deal revealed about an hour later.

ACCC chief operating officer Rayne de Gruchy said in a statement the issue had been rectified by applying a patch to the software.

"We apologise unreservedly for this unfortunate and serious incident," Ms de Gruchy said.

"The ACCC has successfully managed highly market-sensitive commercial information for decades and this is the first time, to our knowledge, that a merger decision has been released in this manner," she said.

A spokesman for the Australian Stock Exchange said on the day of the issue that it was "very rare" for this type of information to be disclosed without the ASX being informed first.

The regulator’s chairman Rod Sims, who is currently overseas, blamed "lousy" computer systems for the blunder last week and described it as an "embarrassing" situation for the organisation.

He has since faced a firestorm of criticism over the decision itself, with Vodafone and TPG describing it as a "fantastical" decision that is not based in the reality of the market for telecommunications companies.

The telcos are expected to launch an appeal in Federal Court over the next few weeks.