Italy govt to assess whether single network project still feasible: minister

Italy's Minister for Economic Development Giancarlo Giorgetti attends a debate at the Senate
FILE PHOTO: Italy's Minister for Economic Development Giancarlo Giorgetti attends a debate at the Senate ahead of a confidence vote for the government, in Rome, Italy, February 17, 2021. Andrew Medichini/Pool via REUTERS

March 18, 2021

By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) – Italy will re-examine the previous government’s planned single broadband network project to ensure it is feasible, Industry Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti said, adding any decision in favour of the plan would be conditional on the asset falling under state control.

Giorgetti’s comments, during a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday, raised doubts over a long-delayed plan pursued by Italy under former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

His government had been trying to create a full-fibre national network by merging Open Fiber, a small broadband operator owned by state lender CDP and utility Enel, with the landline grid assets of former phone monopoly Telecom Italia (TIM).

CDP is TIM’s second-biggest shareholder behind French media giant Vivendi.

New Prime Minister Mario Draghi has put digital infrastructure at the heart of his government’s agenda but has yet to clarify whether he intends to implement the unified network project and under what terms.

“I’m not sure whether the plan for a single network is right or wrong. It makes sense if its under state control. We won’t re-create a private monopoly on the network,” Giorgetti said.

Under the plan backed by Conte, the single broadband network operator could be majority-owned by TIM if the value of the assets folded in the new player justified it, but would need to grant equal access to all market players. The final say on strategic issues would lie with the CDP.

TIM has repeatedly said it would not agree to have less than 50% of any network company created from a combination with Open Fiber.

Giorgetti added the stalemate over the project was not helpful and urgent clarification was needed on whether it was doable.

“This stalemate must be overcome and the state as shareholder of the companies involved has a responsibility to make a quick proposal on the matter.”

“If the single network offers a level playing field for all, it is a good thing … but if the creation of the (joint) company takes 18 months and in the meantime everyone makes investments to make maximise their position, we create overlaps and waste resources,” Giorgetti added.

(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte, writing by Agnieszka Flak, editing by Steve Orlofsky)