The CMA will explore whether technical barriers, fees to transfer data, volume discounts and software licensing practices are hindering competition in cloud services
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has today published an issues statement setting out the proposed initial scope of its market investigation into public cloud infrastructure services (cloud services), including potential remedies, should competition problems be found during its investigation.
The market was referred to the CMA for an investigation by Ofcom, following its market study, which identified features that make it difficult for UK businesses to switch and use multiple cloud suppliers. Ofcom was particularly concerned about the position of Amazon and Microsoft as leaders in the £7.5 billion cloud services market in the UK.
Cloud services allow remote access to computing resources on demand and over a network. They are being rapidly adopted by businesses across the UK and have become an essential part of how many vital services are delivered to consumers, including banking, retailing, streaming and communications. The CMA’s investigation will examine the cloud services market and consider whether there are competition concerns and, if so, what interventions could improve the supply of these important services for UK customers.
The issues statement outlines the proposed initial scope of the CMA’s investigation, drawing on the three features of the market Ofcom was most concerned about plus the impact, if any, of software licensing practices on cloud competition.
The CMA’s investigation will examine:
If technical barriers are making switching providers and multi-cloud (using cloud services from more than one provider) difficult for customers and whether these barriers are contributing to the lock-in of customers to a single provider.
Whether egress fees act as a barrier to switching and multi-cloud, contribute to unpredictable costs for customers and hinder competition between cloud providers.
If the way discounts by existing cloud providers are structured acts as a barrier to entry and expansion among cloud providers in a way that leads to longer-term harm to competition.
The nature of the software licensing practices of the relevant cloud providers and whether these practices disincentivise customers from using rival cloud providers or raise barriers to entry in the market.
Kip Meek, chair of the CMA’s inquiry group, said:
Cloud services are an essential part of how businesses in the UK operate and they underpin many aspects of our daily activities, from banking to communications. This is why effective competition in this market is so important.
Following Ofcom’s market study, we’re proposing to focus our investigation on a number of issues that may be affecting cloud customers’ ability to switch between providers and make it harder for rival firms to enter the market. We welcome views on these issues as we get this investigation underway.
The CMA’s independent inquiry group is seeking views from interested parties on the issues identified and whether there are other concerns which should also be investigated.
Responses to the issues statement should be sent to CloudMI@cma.gov.uk. The consultation is open until Thursday 9 November 2023. The inquiry group will consider the views it receives as part of its ongoing investigation and will reach a final conclusion by April 2025.
For more information, visit the Cloud Services Market Investigation case page.
Note to Editors
Today’s issues statement does not represent the CMA’s emerging or provisional views, findings, or conclusions on either the competition issues or remedies, should these be needed. The CMA’s independent inquiry group has yet to determine whether any competition concerns could arise in the supply of cloud services in the UK.
At this early stage in the investigation, publishing this issues statement will assist those submitting evidence to focus on the issues the CMA’s inquiry group envisages being relevant. As the investigation progresses, further issues in the market may be identified.
The three features that Ofcom was most concerned about in the final report of its market study are:
Technical barriers to switching – which may prevent customers from being able to switch between different clouds or use more than one provider
Egress fees – charges that cloud customers must pay to move their data out of the cloud
Discounts – which may incentivise customers to use only one cloud provider raising barriers for other providers to either enter the market or expand their presence
Ofcom’s report also outlines concerns it has heard about the software licensing practices of some cloud providers, in particular Microsoft. Ofcom did not make any finding in relation to these concerns in its final report
The CMA has appointed an inquiry group, who are the decision makers in the investigation. This will be chaired by Kip Meek, one of the CMA’s designated inquiry chairs. The other panel members are Robin Foster, Paul Hughes, and Colleen Keck. All the appointees are chosen from the CMA’s expert independent panel members, who come from a variety of backgrounds, including economics, law, accountancy, and business.
A market investigation by the CMA is an in-depth investigation led by a group of CMA panel members. The CMA must generally conclude a market investigation within 18 months from the date that the reference is made. Market investigations consider whether there are features of a market that have an adverse effect on competition (AEC). If there is an AEC, the CMA has the power to impose remedies on businesses and it can also make recommendations to other bodies such as sectoral regulators or the government – when legislation might be required for example. The CMA can compel firms to change behaviour, such as the way a product is sold in a particular market and the information that is available to customers buying that product. The CMA also has the power to impose structural remedies which can require companies to sell parts of their business to improve competition.
Guidance on the CMA’s approach to market investigations can be found here.
Submissions in response to the issues statement should be sent to CloudMI@cma.gov.uk