By Giuseppe Fonte and Elvira Pollina
ROME (Reuters) – Comcast unit SKY <CMCSA.O>, utility A2A <A2.MI> and state agency Invitalia are considering investing in an Italian single ultra-fast broadband network, two sources told Reuters, as Rome steps up efforts to close the digital gap with the rest of Europe.
Former phone monopoly Telecom Italia (TIM) <TLIT.MI>, partly owned by state lender CDP, has been in talks for months over a merger of its fibre assets with those of smaller rival Open Fiber, controlled by Italian utility Enel <ENEI.MI> and CDP.
But differences over issues such as governance and regulation have created a deadlock.
To end the stalemate, Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri asked TIM and Enel to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the end of July, Reuters exclusively reported on July 11.
Asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, one of the sources told Reuters “several Italian and foreign investors informally expressed interest in investing in the government-sponsored project.”
He added infrastructure fund F2i and Poste Italiane <PST.MI> might also be interested.
SKY, which in June launched its own broadband service, declined to comment. Its CEO Maximo Ibarra at that time said a single fibre network could help boost demand for digital services but it should not be controlled by any operator offering services to retail clients, such as TIM.
A2A did not comment. Invitalia and F2i were not immediately available and Poste declined to comment.
Rome increased pressure for an agreement after TIM had started talks with U.S. private equity fund KKR about selling 40% of its secondary or last-mile copper and fibre network, which could become the embryo of a single network.
Sources told Reuters this month Rome would be in favour of CDP taking a stake in the secondary network to balance KKR’s presence.
Australian fund giant Macquarie <MQG.AX> has in the meantime made an offer for all, or part, of Enel’s 50% stake in Open Fiber that sources said valued the wholesale operator at almost 8 billion euros ($9.4 billion). Fund Wren House is also interested, sources said.
(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Elvira Pollina; editing by David Evans)