ROME/MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's Enel ENEI.MI is close to clinching a deal to sell its stake in fast broadband operator Open Fiber to Australian fund Macquarie and state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), three sources close to the matter told Reuters.
With talks entering a crunch phase ahead of a key Enel board meeting scheduled for Nov. 23, the government is ramping up pressure on the parties to speed up plans to create a national broadband operator, the sources added, asking not to be named.
Rome wants phone incumbent Telecom Italia (TIM) TLIT.MI to merge its landline grid with Open Fiber, which is jointly controlled by utility Enel and CDP.
Macquarie has made a binding bid for all or part of Enel’s 50% stake in Open Fiber, valuing the fast-fibre infrastructure at more than 7 billion euros ($8.61 billion) including debt.
But sources said Rome had urged the fund to buy less than 50% so that CDP could take control to ensure the government road map is respected.
CDP has a right of first refusal on the Enel stake should the utility sell its holding.
Enel is leaning towards announcing its exit from Open Fiber as early as this month, one of the sources said, adding CDP asked to raise its stake to 60% with Macquarie acquiring the remaining 40%.
Macquarie has offered CDP the right to nominate both chairman and Chief executive, the source said.
A second source said Enel could approve the stake sale to Macquarie on Nov. 23, the day before CEO Francesco Starace presents the utility’s new business plan to the market, though the deal with CDP might be finalised at a later stage.
The sources cautioned talks were still ongoing and could yet throw up surprises.
Macquarie, Enel and CDP declined to comment.
State-controlled Enel did not sign off on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) ratified by TIM and CDP in August, setting out a road map for the creation of a unified fast broadband network.
TIM has said it wants to keep majority control of any single network but Starace insists any such network should remain outside the control of a vertically-integrated incumbent with a big retail business.
Rome is keen to make sure the grid is independent of TIM, open equally to all operators and, crucially, acceptable to regulators.
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Editing by Elaine Hardcastle
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