CDP would consider a government request to buy into incumbent telco, but insists Open Fiber network is its main concern

Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) could invest in TIM if the government asks it to, it emerged this week, a move that would raise suggestions of a conflict of interests, since the Italian state-owned investment bank already holds a stake in Open Fiber, which is rolling out a wholesale fibre broadband network in competition with that of the telecoms incumbent.

There has been widespread speculation in Italy that the government might request that CDP buy into TIM in the national interest, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

CDP chairman Claudio Costamagna told Italian TV channel La 7 that if the state asked it to purchase a stake in TIM, formerly known as Telecom Italia, the bank would "look at it to see if it was advantageous or not," the newswire reported.

There has been much talk of use of the government’s so-called golden power over TIM in the wake of the Consob ruling that Vivendi exercises control over the telco via its 24% stake and influence of the operator’s board.

As a telecoms network operator, TIM is a strategic national asset, and many in Italy believe its infrastructure should be hived off into a separate entity, controlled by the state. There were rumours last month that the government would seek to force a spin-off or sale of international carrier business TI Sparkle for the same reason.

Involving CDP in the situation would be controversial, given the bank’s links with the Open Fiber network. Open Fiber is a 50:50 joint venture between utility company Enel and CDP that it is deploying a fibre network alongside Italy’s electricity infrastructure.

Enel has always said it is open to the idea of having TIM as a customer on the network, but to date the telco has ploughed its own furrow; last month it signed an MoU with a federation of Italian utility companies that will enable to use their pipes, ducts and public lighting infrastructure to facilitate its own fibre network rollout.

According to Reuters, CDP’s Costamagna made it clear that his company’s priority is the Open Fiber project, and not any proposed participation in TIM, although it would consider any government request in that area.

The newswire said the state will decide by the end of the month whether to exercise any of its special powers.