Bell Atlantic is looking to pull out of Infostrada, its telecomms joint venture with Olivetti, and Italy?s second fixed wire operator.
Infostrada postponed its shareholder meeting yesterday on the news. Its members were to have approved a share capital increase.
Bell Atlantic refused to confirm or deny that it will quit Infostrada, but a statement by Olivetti confirmed that the US firm ?intends to withdraw from the joint venture". A spokesperson for Bell Atlantic said: ?We are in discussions with Olivetti about the future of Infostrada, and we expect these discussions to conclude successfully.?
The loss of Bell Atlantic as a partner will be a blow to Olivetti as it prepares to focus on being a telecomms company. Last week, it emerged that Olivetti is in discussions with potential partners or even buyers for its services arm, Olsy, with Wang rumoured to be in the front line. Earlier this year the Italian company sold its PC business to a consortium of European investors.
Infostrada is 67 per cent owned by Olivetti and 33 per cent by Bell Atlantic. It has more than 900 customers for services including voice, Internet, outsourcing and data.
In April, France Telecom said it intended to buy 49 per cent of Infostrada. The balance would be held by the existing two partners in the same 67:33 proportion, via a joint holding company called Infostrada Investment.
An Olivetti spokesperson would not comment on the future of Infostrada Investment, but did not rule out a replacement partner. He said that, despite Bell Atlantic?s expected departure, Olivetti would continue to offer Infostrada access to resources.
The Olivetti spokesperson said Bell Atlantic does not intend to pull out their other joint venture, Omintel Pronto Italia, Italy's second wireless operator.
Bell Atlantic is currently digesting its $25.6 billion merger with fellow US telco, Nynex. Departure from Infostrada would fly in the face of recent comments by Bell Atlantic?s European chief, Giancarlo Ferrero, who told Italian journalists to expect a ?strong resumption? of its push in Europe.
Analysts speculate that Bell Atlantic?s decision may be linked to Cable & Wireless. Nynex partly owns CWC, Cable & Wireless' UK cable operation, and a link with Infostrada could clash with Cable & Wireless? own interests in Italy.
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