Exclusive: Vodafone, Telecom Italia offer rivals access to some sites to ease EU concerns - EU paper

FILE PHOTO: Different types of 4G, 5G and data radio relay antennas for mobile phone networks are pictured on a relay mast operated by Vodafone in Berlin, Germany, April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Vodafone VOD.L and Telekom Italia TLIT.MI have offered to allow rivals access to sites in some cities for up to nine years, a proposal aimed at allaying EU antitrust concerns over the creation of Italy’s largest mobile tower company, according to an EU document seen by Reuters.

The companies announced the deal in July last year which will see Vodafone transfer its Italian mobile masts to INWIT INWT.MI, TIM’s 60%-owned subsidiary.

They will each have a 37.5% stake and equal governance rights in the enlarged INWIT.

For the telecoms industry, combining towers or sharing networks to reduce debt and share costs are seen as an alternative to counter EU antitrust regulators’ tough line on telecoms mergers that reduce the number of players in a market from four to three.

Under Vodafone and TIM’s proposal, INWIT will make available around 630 sites in towns with more than 35,000 people, allowing rivals to provide current and future mobile and fixed telephony services, the document said.

Access will be between 6-9 years and renewable up to six years. The number of sites made available will gradually decrease to just below 400 during the fifth year of the companies’ proposal which will be valid for eight years.

Access will be granted on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms while a fast track system will allow companies to resolve disputes.

The Commission is now seeking feedback from the companies’ rivals and from consumers before deciding whether to accept the offer, demand further measures or open a full-scale investigation.

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in Italy want the companies to provide access to their network once the deal is completed, especially as they roll out 5G infrastructure, sources close to the matter told Reuters. MVNOs offer mobile services to their customers over the wireless network infrastructure of bigger rivals.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee