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French PM sets stage for new mobile entrant
|13 января 2009|
The likelihood of the emergence of a fresh rival to France's three main mobile-phone operators increased Monday after French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the government would ring-fence a chunk of available frequencies for a new entrant.
Shares in the companies that control France's three established mobile operators - France Telecom SA, Vivendi SA, Bouygues SA - fell following the announcement.
The government will entrust telecom regulator Arcep with the process of allotting the frequencies originally set aside for the country's fourth mobile license with a view to allocating them "before the summer," Fillon said.
The frequencies will be split into three packages, two of which will open to all parties, including the three existing network operators.
"One package will be reserved for a new operator to allow an improvement in the offering of operators and also to create conditions for better competition," Fillon told a press conference.
The prime minister's announcement is a boost to broadband operator Iliad SA's hopes of entering the mobile market.
"Obviously we're watching and when the time comes we'll be a candidate," Iliad's chief financial officer, Thomas Reynaud, told Dow Jones Newswires."We're waiting to see the conditions but we've been fighting for this for three years."
Iliad failed to meet the financial conditions for the fourth mobile license in 2007, but has continued to reiterate its desire to find a way into the mobile sector.
"We all know what happened to broadband when Iliad entered the market," said Dexia analyst Rob Goyens."They're known for an aggressive pricing strategy."
Fear about heightened competition was weighing on the share prices of established operators, Goyens said, noting that Bouygues was suffering the most since it has the smallest customer base.
The news does little to change the investment case for Iliad, Goyens added, as the company has worked to reassure analysts and investors that it won't overspend on mobile.
Dexia has a buy rating on Iliad and neutral rating on France Telecom.
France Telecom won't comment on Fillon's statement until "the exact financial and operational conditions" of the allocation process are known, a spokesman said.
"Of course, we will be paying close attention to make sure that these conditions are fair with respect to previous attribution processes," he said.
Spokespeople for Bouygues Telecom and SFR declined to comment.
The government's decision also marks a shift from a more cautious position in October, when Eric Besson, the junior minister for the digital economy, said the government wouldn't seek to "impose or exclude" a new entrant.
Arcep has maintained that a new entrant should be given "priority access" to some of the frequencies.
The government also wants the process to reallocate the the frequencies set to be freed up by the shift from analog to digital television, known as the digital dividend, to begin before the end of the year.
Источник: Total Telecom