EC OKs Swisscom's FastWeb bid

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BRUSSELS -- The European Commission on Friday unconditionally cleared Swiss media giant Swisscom's €3.7 billion ($5 billion) takeover bid for Italian broadband supplier FastWeb.

Swisscom is offering €47 ($63.6) per Fastweb share and the bid ends Tuesday.

Swisscom, a spin-off of state-owned telecoms monopoly PTT -- and still majority-owned by the Swiss government -- has now branched into broadcasting and multimedia services.

FastWeb provides fixed voice, broadband and Internet Protocol Television services. The IPTV service was developed in 2000 and uses a mixture of the company's own middleware and set-top box software with commercially available video-on-demand technology from the likes of BitBand and Kasenna.

Swisscom CEO Carsten Schloter on Wednesday told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that the merger will give his company access to the know-how Fastweb has in IPTV, whose high launch costs in the first quarter penalized the Swiss operator's results.

He was speaking as Swisscom announced it will sell its Hungarian broadcasting unit Antenna Hungaria to TDF, the largest French operator of broadcast towers, for 540 million Swiss francs ($444 million). Swisscom, which bought Antenna Hungaria in 2005 for 392 million Swiss francs, said that it has been unable to purchase any other broadcasting companies in Central and Eastern Europe and plans to use the money for the FastWeb takeover.

Swisscom also said that its net profit in the first quarter of 2007 stood at 461 million Swiss francs ($379 million), up slightly from the 460 million Swiss francs recorded in the year-ago quarter. It added that its revenue in the first quarter were 2.4 billion Swiss francs ($2 billion), nearly unchanged from 2.38 billion Swiss francs posted for the same period a year earlier.

On Friday, FastWeb reported a first-quarter net loss of €20.7 million ($28 million), down from a €28.8 million loss a year earlier, with sales up 22.5% to €353.9 million ($478.7 million) from €289 million in the year-ago period. The Italian company also is saddled with hefty debts, though they had fallen slightly to €1.1 billion ($1.5 billion) by the end of March.
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