Voo buys Belgian cablers for $634 mil

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BRUSSELS -- Belgium's Voo consortium has bought eight of the country's cable operators for €475 million ($634 million) in a bid to create a triple-play giant.

The consortium is now in control of the entire cable distribution in the Wallonia region, which covers the southern half of Belgium. The eight cable operators were jointly owned by local councils and utility company Electrabel, itself part of France's Suez energy giant.

Voo is a joint operation set up in April by Brussels-based cable operator Brutele and ALE-Teledis, based around Belgium's second-largest city, Liege. Voo aims to provide cable, digital television, Internet and telephony through the same line beginning in September, though it will require a network upgrade to two-way digital hybrid fiber coaxial to bring higher bandwidth to users.

The consortium was hurriedly thrown together when two other rivals emerged to challenge in the Belgian triple-play market: Belgacom TV -- backed by former national telephone company Belgacom -- and Telenet in Flanders.

Cable has a 90% penetration rate in Belgium, and both Belgacom and Telenet have attempted to extend their reach into Wallonia without success. In 2004, Luxembourg operator Altice made a €196 million failed bid for the eight networks.

Telenet filed suit when it was sidelined from the bidding negotiations in September, and is expected to appeal the deal with Voo. The Flemish company claimed it was excluded because it is part of John Malone's Liberty Global empire.
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