Cable legal wrangle in Belgium


BRUSSELS -- Belgian telecoms and cable giant Belgacom has sought a court order blocking four local cable television companies from selling their television activities to rival national cable operator Telenet.

Telenet, which already offers digital television with iDTV, signed a 300 million euro ($444 million) deal in November with the four companies -- Interelectra, Integan, WVEM and PBE -- collectively known as Interkabel. The planned deal allows Telenet -- controlled by John Malone's Liberty Global empire -- to take command of Interkabel's TV operations to approximately 800,000 customers.

However, Belgacom claims that Telenet's accord with the cable operators, who are local government owned, should have been subject to an open procedure like a local tender.

"Our objective is not to simply delay the agreement, but to question its legality," Belgacom spokesman Thierry Bouckaert said. "We worry that it could damage the market and create a monopoly for Telenet." Even if Belgacom's complaint fails to block the deal, it will slow it down by at least two months.

Cable has a 90% penetration rate in Belgium, but Belgacom has struggled to compete against Telenet in the northern, Dutch-speaking Flanders, and against another rival VOO in Wallonia, Belgium's French-speaking south.

Last year, Telenet lost out in a bidding battle as VOO, paid 475 million euros ($634 million) for eight cable operators in Wallonia. In a move that mirrors Belgacom's current court challenge, Telenet filed a suit, saying it was sidelined last year from the bidding negotiations for the eight operators.