(Repeats with no changes)
* Banks’ involvement sends signal TIM wants to push ahead
* Government has been urging TIM to spin off network
* Politicians see network business as strategic asset
* Separation could take more than a year - source
By Pamela Barbaglia, Stephen Jewkes and Agnieszka Flak
LONDON/MILAN, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Telecom Italia (TIM) has chosen Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse to work on the spin-off of its network, three sources told Reuters.
The appointment of the banks is a strong signal of TIM’s intention to push ahead with the spin-off, which has been on and off for almost a decade.
The government sees the plan as an important step to boosting transparency in Italy’s telecoms infrastructure and to protecting an asset which it considers strategic from foreign influence.
Spokespeople at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse declined to comment.
New TIM boss Amos Genish who took the helm in September has been seeking to mend fences with the political establishment in Rome.
The former state telecoms monopoly has been under pressure for years from politicians, regulators and rivals to break up its operations into two separate companies to boost transparency and ensure fair access.
That pressure has increased since 2015 when French media group Vivendi became the top shareholder at Italy’s biggest phone group.
Politicians are worried about the growing influence of Vivendi in Italy. Vivendi is also embroiled in a legal battle with broadcaster Mediaset, owned by the family of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. His center-right bloc is leading the polls ahead of national elections on March 4.
The break-up plan will see TIM putting its network into a new company which the second source said had been dubbed NetCo.
Although the company would initially be fully controlled by TIM, creating a separate legal entity would put some distance between NetCo and TIM’s top shareholder, Vivendi.
A representative from Italy’s communications regulator would also sit on NetCo’s board, allowing the government to follow more closely what was going on at the network.
TIM will outline some details of the network spin-off when it presents its new business plan on March 6, one of the three sources said.
It might however take more than a year for the separation plan to be fully implemented, that source said. It has not yet been approved by the board and the banks have not been appointed in a formal capacity.
Genish held talks with Industry Minister Carlo Calenda on Feb. 7 and officially proposed the separation plan in a public display of mutual goodwill.
Vivendi may later push TIM to sell a minority stake in the newly-created network unit to pay down TIM’s debt pile of 26 billion euros and fund expansion in Brazil, two of the sources said.
“It’s a win-win situation,” a second source said. “Telecom Italia will have Rome on its side and the deal will give it options for the future.”
The carrier, which owns Brazil’s second-largest wireless phone company, TIM Participações, has often been touted as a possible bidder for Brazilian wireless carrier Oi SA which is currently going through a restructuring.
“The end game remains unclear but Brazil ranks high on the priority list,” the source said.
A third source said TIM could eventually decide to merge all or part of its network business with its head-to-head broadband rival Open Fiber, which was launched in 2015 by state-controlled utility Enel and state-owned lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti.
Open Fiber is building a competing fast internet network across Italy and a deal with TIM would avoid duplication and allow the companies to speed up investments.
Italian politicians have repeatedly called for closer ties between the two companies. Berlusconi’s center-right bloc wants Open Fiber and TIM to be part of a single company to boost investment and guarantee equal access to all operators.
After meeting TIM’s Genish, a favourite of Vivendi Chairman Vincent Bollore, several government politicians have said a new phase of relations between Rome and the former state phone monopoly had started.
However, the relationship remains delicate. On Wednesday, Italy’s antitrust watchdog said it was investigating TIM over allegations, denied by the company, it used its dominant position to obstruct rival Open Fiber in its ultrafast broadband rollout. (Editing by Silvia Aloisi and Anna Willard)