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By Stefano Rebaudo
MILAN, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Italian communications networks, including those owned by Telecom Italia (TIM) and Open Fiber, should be put into one company to boost investment and guarantee equal access to all operators, a senior figure from the Forza Italia party said.
Forza Italia (Go Italy!), the party of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, is part of a centre-right coalition that is leading the polls ahead of national elections in March.
TIM has come under pressure from Italian politicians, regulators and rivals to separate and upgrade its network, an asset analysts value at up to 15 billion euros ($19 billion).
That pressure has increased since the creation of Open Fiber, a joint venture between state-owned utility Enel and state lender CDP, which began rolling out a fiber optic network across Italy in direct competition to TIM.
“It doesn’t make any sense to have two motorways from Milan to Rome, so it doesn’t make any sense to have two telecom networks competing against each other,” Maurizio Gasparri, a former communications minister and a senior figure in Forza Italia, told Reuters.
TIM and Open Fiber declined to comment.
TIM presented a proposal to communications regulator AGCOM last week to put its network into a separate company fully owned by the group, widely seen as an attempt to address calls for it to loosen its grip over a key industry asset.
Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) has repeatedly called for TIM to move its network and services operations into two separate legal entities.
Gasparri said TIM could initially hold a majority stake in the single network company, “but in the medium term new investors could come in”.
TIM Chief Executive Amos Genish said in November TIM wanted to keep control of the network, but did not need to own it in full, adding the company would make a decision “on our terms when we really believe it’s needed”.
The phone group will present a new strategy plan on March 6.
TIM and its network, which Italy considers a strategic asset, have come under closer scrutiny by Rome since French media group Vivendi began calling the shots at the Italian phone group after becoming its top investor.
Vivendi is also locked in a legal dispute with Mediaset , the media company controlled by Berlusconi’s family, after the French group unexpectedly backed out of a deal in 2016 to buy the Milan group’s pay-TV unit Premium.
Gasparri said the decision on a single network company should come from the companies themselves and that the government could not decide on it.
“It cannot be an expropriation,” he said.
$1 = 0.8087 euros Reporting by Stefano Rebaudo; Editing by Mark Potter