MILAN (Reuters) – The head of Vodafone Group said Italy’s plan to create a single fast broadband network in which Telecom Italia would hold a majority stake could be a step backwards since it effectively amounted to renationalisation and re-monopolisation.
In an article in Politico on Wednesday, Nick Read said Rome was looking to recreate the fixed-line monopoly that previous Italian governments and EU institutions had dismantled.
“This would leave would-be fixed broadband providers with only one seller of wholesale access to the combined network – yet again Telecom Italia (TIM),” he said.
Last month TIM and state lender CDP agreed to create a national ultrafast grid operator combining the former phone monopoly’s network assets with those of smaller rival Open Fiber.
Such an operator could be majority-owned by TIM but its independence and third-party status would be guaranteed by a shared governance mechanism with CDP, which would emerge as a major shareholder in the venture, open to other players.
Vodafone offers mobile and fixed-line services in Italy, and is one of Open Fiber’s biggest commercial clients.
The Italian government sees the single broadband network as a strategic priority to help Italy close a yawning technological gap with other countries and boost its stagnant economy by increasing digitalisation.
Read said it had only been with the creation of Open Fiber a few years ago that Italy had started to modernise its fixed networks, providing more comparable high-speed services to those of other EU member countries.
“Reverting to a failed monopoly model cannot possibly be good for either competition or investment. It also contravenes four decades of anti-monopolistic policy and EU law,” he said.
TIM and CDP declined to comment.
(Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Mark Potter)