June 26, 2020 / 7:52 AM / 10 days ago

Italy focus on single network may delay Open Fiber spend - paper

MILAN, June 26 (Reuters) - Italy’s push to create a single network operator could delay broadband investments and Rome should instead focus on bringing fast Internet into all homes to bridge the digital gap with Europe, the head of Open Fiber told Il Messaggero daily.

The Italian government sees building an ultra-fast broadband network as crucial to reviving its coronavirus-hit economy.

It has called on Telecom Italia and smaller rival Open Fiber, a wholesale-only broadband operator jointly-owned by Enel and state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), to reach an accord quickly on creating a single ultra-fast broadband network to avoid costly duplication of investments.

But Elisabetta Ripa, Open Fiber’s chief executive, said in an interview with Friday’s Il Messaggero that pushing for a single network would not help in the short and medium term.

“Any kind of merger or acquisition deal would block Open Fiber’s activities and its investments. The result would be a delay,” Ripa told the paper.

Telecom Italia (TIM) has been in talks for months about merging its network assets with those of Open Fiber, but differences over governance, regulation and other issues have thwarted efforts.

Ripa said the reason for pushing for a single network may relate to the long-term viability of TIM, a former state phone monopoly and a vertically integrated operator, whose network includes both fibre and copper assets, but while “these are legitimate concerns they are not Open Fiber’s”.

She then said that if Italy wants to bring fiber connections into every home, “we need to start talking about turning off the copper network” but “that fuels tensions”.

The executive dismissed criticism that the Open Fiber project had failed, saying that while there were delays to rolling out coverage in some areas, the company was accelerating its investments.

TIM could not immediately be reached for comment. (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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