Eurobites: Altice Sells Off SFR Fiber Assets for $2.3B

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: Telefónica outlines transformation plan; Italy's League party supports state-backed broadband network; Germany scrutinizes Amazon.

  • Anyone still remaining to be convinced that there's money in wholesale fiber access networks these days need look no further than France, where Altice has agreed to sell a 49.99% stake in the FTTH assets of its SFR subsidiary to a trio of private equity firms for €1.8 billion (US$2.3 billion) in cash. The deal is not unexpected, as Altice had said in October it was in FTTH financing talks. The plan is to build out the FTTH access network in France to reach 5 million homes within the next four years, plus more "to be franchised or acquired," and offer wholesale access on equal terms to all players. Altice and its new partners are looking to ensure they have a wholesale fiber access foothold across France as access bandwidth demands grow, which they certainly will as the 5G era dawns (dense fiber access networks will be needed to underpin 5G services) and cities become "smart." Orange (NYSE: FTE) will certainly be taking note of this development. Altice, it must be noted, needed the cash to help deal with its debt pile and credit rating, pressures that have already seen it agree to sell tower assets in Europe.

    The deal further highlights the increasing value being assigned to wholesale fiber access assets across Europe: Altice's deal comes in the wake of the acquisition of CityFibre in the UK by a Goldman Sachs-led consortium and the financing of Open Fiber SpA in Italy. "There are significant opportunities in fiber across all markets," notes Paolo Pescatore, SVP of Consumer Services at MIDiA Research. "This seems a sensible move that will benefit the country and all providers," and "represents a key step in reducing its debt burden. Altice can now focus on providing competitive offers for households and, in turn, improve its margins, which have been dented by price wars," added the analyst. (See Altice Raises €1.8B From SFR FTTH Stake Sale, Altice to Sell French, Portuguese Towers for €2.5B, Eurobites: Italy's Open Fiber Secures €3.5B Loan for Mega-Rollout, Eurobites: Investment Group Makes £538M Bid for CityFibre and CityFibre Model Heading to US, Says CEO.)

  • Telefónica has launched what I suppose we are legally obliged to call a "digital transformation program" as it seeks greater growth for its stakeholders. Officially entitled "Reconnect," the three-year initiative seeks to make the operator more relevant to its customers, through the simplification and personalization of its offerings made possible by new technologies such as artificial intelligence. Rallying the troops in Madrid, Telefónica's Chairman & CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete seemed to channel the fortune-cookie wisdom of The Water Margin, saying: "Whether the glass is half empty or half full isn't important… the only thing that matters is that it can be refilled." Deep, José, deep.

  • Italy's far-right League party, currently in a ruling coalition with the 5-Star Movement, wants to see the networks of Telecom Italia (TIM) and state-controlled Open Fiber combined into one network under state control, Reuters reports. A potential spin-off of TIM's fixed-line network is the central issue at stake in a tussle between two rival shareholder camps, French conglomerate Vivendi and Elliott Management, for control of the Italian incumbent. (See Telecom Italia Caught in Clash of Clans While Rome Burns.)

  • Online giant Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) is coming under more Euro-centric scrutiny, this time from Germany's Federal Cartel Office, which suspects that Amazon's dual role as both the largest retailer and largest online host for small businesses acts against the interests of other sellers on its platform. As the Telegraph reports, German regulators say they have received numerous complaints from aggrieved sellers on Amazon about the way the company collects information on products in an apparent attempt to gain competitive advantage over its smaller rivals.

  • BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) is buffing up its green credentials by announcing that it is within 4% of its 2020 target to power the company's entire global operations with 100% renewable electricity. The signing of two new energy supply deals means that BT is 15% nearer its target than it was this time last year. The company claims that EE, its UK mobile arm, is powered by 100% certified renewable sources, such as wind farms and solar plants.

    — Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

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