Italian prime minister says Mediaset could join planned broadband network

ROME (Reuters) - Italian media group Mediaset MS.MI could join the single national broadband network the government wants to see created, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday, adding that rules on telecoms ownership in Italy might have to be revised.

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“Why not?” Conte said, when asked by a journalist if Mediaset, controlled by the family of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, could also take part in the broadband project.

The comments came just days after an EU court ruling in a legal tussle between Mediaset and French group Vivendi. The decision went Vivendi’s way and raised questions about an Italian law that is designed to prevent a concentration of power in the telecoms and media sectors.

Conte said the government would have to read the full ruling carefully, but added: “From what has already been announced (by the court) ... it is reasonable to say it will force us to revise the rules regarding telecoms.”

In the wake of the Sept. 3 verdict, Mediaset announced that it might now consider investing in the single broadband network the government is encouraging.

Rome has pushed Telecom Italia (TIM) TLIT.MI, its smaller rival Open Fiber and state lender CDP to create a single national ultrafast grid operator to help Italy close its digital divide with other European countries.

Speaking at an event organised by Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper, Conte said he hoped such a network could be completed within three to four years and that other companies would be welcome to take part.

“It will be an open and inclusive network,” he said. “You talked about Mediaset. I am talking about all the companies in the telecoms sector. We want them all to take part.”

Telecom Italia Chief Executive Luigi Gubitosi said other operators could join the project, adding that there would be no objection in principle to content providers like Mediaset taking part but it was still unclear whether they would want to.

“We still have to understand what interest content operators have, what they can bring and what they can get out of it,” he told a conference in Cernobbio, outside Milan.

“If there’s interest from anyone, it will be evaluated but it’s not obvious from an industrial point of view.”

Reporting by Crispian Balmer, Valentina Za in Cernobbio, Editing by Ros Russell