UPDATE 1-Telecom Italia to decide on network spin-off by yr end

Tue Sep 18, 2012 2:01pm EDT

* To decide on network spin-off if regulation favourable

* Network valued at between 9-15 billion euros

* Spin-off could help cut Telecom Italia's debt mountain (Adds details)

TURIN, Italy Sept 18 (Reuters) - Italy's biggest telecoms company, Telecom Italia, may decide to spin off its valuable fixed-line network by the end of the year, as the country presses ahead with plans to expand fast broadband services.

Earlier this month Telecom Italia's chief executive said the company was considering spinning off the network -- valued at an estimated 9-15 billion euros ($11.6-$19.4 billion) -- but had set no time range.

Its chairman Franco Bernabe said on Tuesday the spin off could go ahead if the EU watchdog stuck by its pledge not to pressure companies to lower the fees they charge for using their copper networks.

EU Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes promised in July to keep this approach in place until at least 2020, responding to calls by big operators for regulatory certainty ahead of costly network buildouts.

"We hope to have all the elements to decide before year end," Bernabe told reporters at the group's laboratories in Turin.

The spin-off could help Telecom Italia cut its debt mountain and speed the development of fast broadband, an area where Italy has lagged other European countries, dragging on economic growth.

Italy, where only 52 percent of households have a broadband connection, needs to invest up to 24 billion euros in the decade to 2020 to meet digital development targets set by the European Commission, according to data from the European Investment Bank. (Reporting by Danilo Masoni; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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