* Ministers considering alternatives to single broadband network
* Consortium plan needs backing from Italy, EU antitrust bodies
* Draghi plans to invest some 7 bln euros on ultra-fast networks
ROME, April 21 (Reuters) - Italy’s ruling parties are discussing a plan to agglomerate all the country’s telecom operators in a consortium to accelerate the rollout of ultra-fast infrastructure nationwide, a document seen by Reuters showed on Wednesday.
While talks continue on the fate of a long-delayed plan to merge the fixed-line access network of former monopoly Telecom Italia (TIM) with that of rival Open Fiber, the scheme is seen as a quicker alternative to boost investments.
Key coalition figures met on Tuesday with officials from the industry and innovation ministries to discuss potential options, four participants told Reuters.
The consortium proposal would aim to avoid duplicating investments and to “encourage joint investments financed by public grants,” the minutes of the meeting said.
It remains to be seen how the scheme, which is championed by the co-ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD), would comply with Italian and European Antitrust rules.
Mario Draghi’s government plans to spend almost 7 billion euros ($8.40 billion) on ultra-fast networks over the next six years using money from the European Union’s Recovery Fund, sources have said.
The consortium idea is in opposition to a proposal previously set out by Innovation Minister Vittorio Colao, a former Vodafone CEO, to launch tenders for rolling out fiber in the so-called “grey areas”, accounting for about a third of the country, where only one operator offers connections.
Several people at the meeting underlined the risk that a large number of small tenders at the same time may lead to uncoordinated implementation of investments, resulting in overcapacity, the minutes said.
Participants discussed various scenarios for the ultra-fast broadband network, the minutes showed.
TIM has repeatedly said it would not agree to owning less than 50% of any combined entity with Open Fiber - something that could trigger regulatory issues.
A less ambitious plan on the table would see Open Fiber merge with Fibercop, a vehicle controlled by TIM that runs the group’s secondary network going from street cabinets to homes.
Under this project, TIM would not fold its primary network - connecting switching centres to street cabinets - into the venture, preventing the former phone monopoly having a majority stake.
$1 = 0.8328 euros Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte, editing by Gavin Jones and Elaine Hardcastle
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