LISBON (Reuters) - Vodafone expects the European Commission to force Portuguese authorities to open access to Altice's fiber optic network to rivals, which should boost competition in the telecoms sector, the head of Vodafone's Portuguese unit said.
Altice now owns MEO, the country's largest pay-TV and broadband Internet provider which used to belong to the country's former monopoly Portugal Telecom. The European Commission in July opened a probe into a preliminary decision by the Portuguese telecommunications market regulator ANACOM not to force MEO to allow other operators such as NOS and Vodafone Portugal to use its fiber optic network.
The Commission has until Nov. 29 to make a ruling. Vodafone Portugal CEO Mario Vaz told Reuters that recent criticism of the current access scheme by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) was similar to doubts expressed by the Commission and Vodafone's own arguments, which gave grounds for hope that the final decision will open up access.
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"We expect a positive result for Portugal," he said. "We are looking forward to the result of the investigation opened by the European Commission ... which would create incentives for co-investment and more competition in non-competitive areas of the country." "Vodafone has always defended a co-investment model for the new-generation fixed networks and led the process to develop agreements to that effect," Vaz said, adding that the current scheme left clients in many areas with a worse service, limited offer and higher bills than in other, more saturated parts.
The Commission is cooperating closely with the Portuguese authorities and BEREC to find "the most appropriate and effective measure for the Portuguese broadband market", Nathalie Vandystadt, a spokeswoman for the Commission, said.
(Reporting by Daniel Alvarenga; additional reporting by Julia Fioretti in Brussels; writing by Andrei Khalip; editing by Adrian Croft and Jason Neely)