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Expats in Gibraltar risk losing access to British TV

gibraltar
UK expats make up around 13pc of Gibraltar's population - Paul Grover for the Telegraph

Expats in Gibraltar could be left without access to their favourite British TV shows amid a bitter legal battle between two of the territory’s biggest telecoms companies.

State-owned Gibtelecom has filed a lawsuit against rival GibFibre over claims its broadcasting arm is illegally providing English language TV services without a licence.

Lawyers for the company have accused GibFibre and its sister company GibSat of conspiring to harm Gibtelecom’s business interests by bundling together these TV services with its broadband packages.

Gibtelecom has applied for an injunction to shut down access to TV channels including BBC 1, ITV and Sky through GibSat.

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If successful, this would leave households in the British Overseas Territory without access to popular shows such as Love Island, Happy Valley and The Traitors.

GibFibre has branded the claims “embarrassing” and accused its state-owned rival of launching the legal battle in retaliation for a long-running dispute over access to crucial data centres in Gibraltar.

A spokesman for GibFibre said: “GibFibre acts in the best interests of its customers and for Gibraltar by providing greater competition in the telecoms sector which increases innovation and brings down prices for everyone.

“The government-owned Gibtelecom has spent eight years trying to block us from providing competition in data services.

“Gibraltarians should not be punished with threats by the Government to cut off their access to UK TV content in retaliation for us standing up for competition and consumer rights.”

The two companies have been locked in a separate legal tussle for almost a decade after GibFibre accused Gibtelecom of denying it access to Mount Pleasant, the territory’s largest data centre.

GibFibre, which is family-owned, has accused its rival of anti-competitive behaviour. A source close to the case said the company was seeking £14m in damages.

Gibtelecom has denied these claims. A trial is due to begin in Gibraltar’s Supreme Court on Monday.

Gibtelecom is chaired by Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar
Gibtelecom is chaired by Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar - Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Media and telecoms services have long proved controversial in Gibraltar, a tiny overseas British territory with a population of just 32,000. It is popular with UK expats, who make up around 13pc of the population.

Gibfibre and Sapphire, another broadcaster, are unable to access licences for a number of high-profile British TV services, but have aired them for years regardless. Access to Sky channels was briefly blocked in 2019 amid accusations of unlicensed broadcasting.

The public reaction was so intense to the switch off that both GibSat and u-Mee, which is owned by Sapphire, turned the channels back on before the 48-hour initial blackout period was over.

Data centres, which house crucial computing equipment for telecoms services, are also critical to Gibraltar’s economy.

A number of gambling firms, including Betfred, Gibraltar and BetVictor, are based in the territory owing to its favourable tax and regulatory regimes.

They rely heavily on access to Mount Pleasant and other data centres for stable internet connections and secure data storage.

But GibFibre has accused Gibtelecom of hampering competition and innovation and raised concerns about close ties between the Gibraltar government and its key telecoms operator.

Gibtelecom is chaired by Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar, while four of its five board seats are occupied by current or former government ministers and officials. It is controlled by the state-owned Gibraltar Savings Bank.

Separately, Mr Picardo’s government is currently gearing up for an explosive public corruption inquiry relating to the handling of a security contract and the early retirement of its police commissioner.

Gibtelecom has been contacted for comment.