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Telefónica sells €1 billion stake in Spanish fibre ops

Spain has a new wholesale FTTH provider after incumbent Telefónica agreed to sell a €1 billion chunk of its rural fibre business to a consortium led by Crédit Agricole’s insurance arm.

In return for their €1 billion, Crédit Agricole Assurances (CAA) and its partner, Paris-based asset manager Vauban Infrastructure Partners, will take a 45 percent stake in the new entity, which covers 3.5 million premises, representing about 13 percent of Telefónica’s total Spanish fibre footprint. Telefónica Group will retain the remaining 55 percent, with ownership assigned to Telefónica Spain and its networks arm Telefónica Infra, which will hold 30 percent and 25 percent respectively.

The new operation goes by the name Bluevia Fibra, and will offer neutral wholesale access to its FTTH network, which it plans to grow to 5 million premises by the end of 2024.

“We are very excited about this project that will allow Telefonica España to remain the undisputed leader in fibre and will be a key lever to accelerate the deployment in rural areas as we continue to move forward in our commitment to shut down the retail copper network and to promote better connectivity in a more efficient and sustainable way,” said Emilio Gayo, chairman of Telefónica Spain, in a statement on Monday.

Offloading chunks of its various fibre networks has become something of a habit for Telefónica in the last couple of years. It is part of its ongoing debt reduction strategy and takes some of the sting out of deploying fibre in harder – i.e. more expensive – to reach areas.

It is a tactic Telefónica employed in Germany with Allianz in early 2020, which brought in €5 billion. It repeated the trick in Chile a year later with KKR, netting a cool €1 billion. That deal was followed up by similar transactions in Brazil, and later Colombia. By October last year, the rumour mill was whirring on about Telefónica lining up a similar sell-off in Spain.

Deals like these are also in line with this broader industry trend of financial investment in network infrastructure. It is viewed as one of the safer long-term bets given that high-speed connectivity plays an increasingly vital role in more and more facets of daily life.

“We are proud to announce this new operation, which is fully in line with the long-term investment and diversification strategy of Crédit Agricole Assurances, a strategy which is illustrated through the financing of large-scale projects in favour of the revitalisation territories alongside major industrial players in the infrastructure sector,” said Philippe Dumont, CEO of CAA.

“This stake in Bluevia, the largest Spanish fibre optic network in rural areas connecting more than 5 million households by 2024, also meets the societal commitments of the Crédit Agricole group to promote access to digital technology for as many people as possible in the regions,” he continued. “The Bluevia activity will have a positive impact on local development and the revitalisation of rural areas through the provision of a modernised telecommunications network, reducing the digital gap between territories.”

Given Telefónica’s well-documented penchant for establishing fibre co-investment vehicles, and the financial community’s appetite for network assets, it would come as no surprise whatsoever if more deals of this nature are already in the pipeline.

 

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