Watchdog sees complications with Liberty-Kabel deal

BONN, Germany Wed Jun 26, 2013 2:22pm EDT

The logo of German cable television group Kabel Deutschland is pictured on the company's headquarters in Unterfoehring north of Munich June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

The logo of German cable television group Kabel Deutschland is pictured on the company's headquarters in Unterfoehring north of Munich June 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Michaela Rehle

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BONN, Germany (Reuters) - A takeover of Kabel Deutschland (KD8Gn.DE) by rival Liberty Global (LBTYA.O) would be more complicated from an anti-trust point of view than Kabel's acquisition by Vodafone (VOD.L), Germany's cartel office said on Wednesday.

Vodafone on Monday agreed to buy Kabel Deutschland, Germany's largest cable operator, for 7.7 billion euros ($10.1 billion), beating a rival approach made by Liberty.

But if Liberty were to return with a counter bid it would face difficulties due to competition issues, the head of the German cartel office said.

"Without any doubt anti-trust problems will arise in the case of a merger between Liberty Global and Kabel Deutschland," Andreas Mundt told reporters at a press conference in Bonn.

Mundt also said that Liberty's 3.16 billion-euro ($4.13 billion) takeover of smaller peer KabelBW was approved in 2011 only after far-reaching conditions were set to satisfy the regulator, since it already owned Unity Media, Germany's second-largest cable operator.

Liberty is still considering its options following the Vodafone offer for Kabel Deutschland, a person familiar with the deliberations told Reuters.

However, Liberty may still face a setback in its takeover of KabelBW as Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) challenged the approval decision last year in a court case which opened on Wednesday.

Liberty Global and Kabel Deutschland have been winning customers from Deutsche Telekom with their expansion into broadband.

Their cable lines, designed to deliver TV to homes, have been upgraded to carry voice calls and Internet at speeds often five times faster than competing services offered by Deutsche Telekom and others.

During the court hearing in Duesseldorf on Wednesday the terms of the KabelBW deal were closely questioned again, a spokesman for the court said.

"The president of the court has indicated that there are doubts whether the remedies, demanded by the cartel office, are sufficient to prevent a dominant position," the spokesman said.

The court will rule on the case on July 12 and could refer the case back to the cartel office, the spokesman said.

Liberty and Deutsche Telekom declined to comment.

Liberty has been the most active buyer in Europe in the last few months, snapping up UK's Virgin Media in February this year and increasing its stake in Dutch group Ziggo (ZIGGO.AS) in March.

In February Germany's competition regulator blocked Kabel Deutschland's bid to take over smaller Berlin-based cable group Telecolumbus for 618 million euros.

In prior German cable deals regulators have required remedies to consolidation such as making it easier for housing associations to switch TV providers and ending the encryption on cable delivery of free-to-view terrestrial television programs. ($1=0.7649 euros)

(Reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff, Harro ten Wolde, Edward Taylor, Sabine Wollrab and Kate Holton; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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