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Italian TV companies want in on single network plan

Italy’s national broadcaster Rai appears to be looking at in buying into the country’s single high-speed network, and there is interest from the private sector too.

Rai’s board is due to meet later this week to discuss the possibility of taking part in the single network plan, Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore reported. The paper claims the state-owned broadcaster’s directors will give the nod to chief executive Fabrizio Salini to make contact with the relevant parties to talk about Rai gaining a seat at the AccessCo table.

AccessCo is the name given to the proposed single network in Italy that will bring together the fixed access network assets of incumbent telco TIM, dubbed FiberCorp, with the rival fibre network Open Fiber, rolled out by state-owned players Enel and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP). The plan has been under discussion for a number of years, with the issue of control of the entity proving a particular hot potato, but last week TIM gave the go-ahead to an arrangement that will see it own at least 50.1% of the venture but share governance with the other players.

In preparation for the creation of the joint network, TIM has agreed to sell a stake in FiberCorp, an entity that will house its FTTx business and its FlashFiber joint venture with rival Fastweb, to KKR. The private equity firm will pay €1.8 billion for a 37.5% holding, leaving TIM and Fastweb with 58% and 4.5% respectively.

Rai’s first port of call to get in on the act will be talks with CDP, Il Sole 24 Ore reports, which has been a crucial player in negotiating the various facets of the deal so far. As 50% owner of Open Fiber and also a TIM shareholder – it holds just under 10% of the telco – CDP has a foot in both camps.

However, utility company Enel is perhaps the most likely to sell shares. Having once insisted that it would not sell out of Open Fiber, Enel has recently been linked with Australia’s Macquarie, although it has made no formal comment on that score.

You could view Rai’s interest as a further shoring up of the state’s position in the new network, but it makes more sense to look at it from a business point of view, especially in light of the fact that commercial broadcaster Mediaset has also put itself forward as a potential AccessCo participant in recent days.

Rai and Mediaset could look to capitalise on a recent European Court of Justice ruling that essentially overturns an Italian law preventing firms from holding shares in both telecoms and media companies. That ruling was in favour of Vivendi, which has been at loggerheads with Mediaset over its participation in shareholder meetings; Vivendi holds a 28.8% stake in Mediaset (but just 9.98% of its voting rights), as well as being TIM’s largest single shareholder with just under 24%.

In an age in which telcos are increasingly encroaching on the content and media space, rolling out their own TV offerings and snapping up premium content rights, it is hardly surprising that the TV giants are keen to hit back and grab a piece of the fibre action. Or, it could simply be a case of wanting to capitalise on the strong investment potential that network assets offer.

Either way, we could soon the Italian telecoms and media landscape become a whole lot more complicated than it is now. And that’s saying something.

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