Italian regulator launches FiberCop investigation

Italy may be dashing closer to having a national broadband operator open to all providers, but there's just one more regulatory hurdle in Rome to surmount.

In a journey with more twists than fusilli, Italy's competition authority said Telecom Italia's FiberCop last-mile network grid was a "strategic objective" for Italy and the regulator wanted to be assured there was "healthy, dynamic competition."

The Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM) said it would investigate agreements around creating the FiberCop network, and supply agreements with Fastweb and Tiscali.

In a 17-page avvio (opening) statement, the regulator said it would also look into dealings involving Fastweb, Teemo Bidco, FiberCop SpA, Tiscali Italia and the American investors KKR, too.

Italy's competition watchdog, which was founded in 1990, has been one of Europe's busier regulators of late, with probes into Google, Amazon, Apple and DropBox.

Reaching the promised LAN

FiberCop is a joint venture which holds Telecom Italia's fixed network's assets, alongside those of Flash Fiber, a joint venture between Telecom Italia and a smaller operator Fastweb (owned by Swisscom).

Italy's government has long been keen to create a single national broadband operator which is open to all operators, by mashing together these assets with the fast-fiber infrastructure of Italy's fast wholesale broadband operator Open Fiber.

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The resulting big telco will be called AccessCo, and it seems probable to pass muster with regulators in Rome and Brussels, it will need to be pretty independent of Telecom Italia.

In the latest step in this journey, Macquarie is acquiring a stake of between 40% and 50% of Open Fiber from Italian energy giant Enel.

Turin-based Italian investment bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) holds the remaining stake, and Macquarie is now expected to transfer some of its Open Fiber holding into this growing FiberCop joint venture.

Though Telecom Italia currently owns 100% of FiberCop, the idea is that private equity firm KKR will acquire a 37.5% stake, and Fastweb a smaller 4.5% holding, according to the AGCM.

It's a journey with more twists and tangles than rotini pasta, but if Italy's regulator can unwind it, chances are it will pass muster in Brussels, too.

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Pádraig Belton, contributing editor special to Light Reading

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