A French government minister has revealed that the state may oppose the sale of the country’s second largest cellular operator, SFR. It has been reported in recent days that SFR’s owner, media and communications group Vivendi, is looking at a possible merger between the cellco and French cable TV operator Numericable. There has also been speculation that UK-based Vodafone Group may be looking to acquire SFR outright. But junior minister for the digital economy, Fleur Pellerin, has told Le Figaro newspaper: ‘SFR is a sensitive and strategic company for France.’ She added: ‘We will do everything in our power to make sure this company does not end up in the hands of unscrupulous shareholders.’
As reported in yesterday’s CommsUpdate, if the deal with Numericable did go ahead, it is thought that Vivendi would be looking to take a 49% stake in the merged entity and at least EUR4 billion (USD5.2 billion) cash. Numericable’s owners, private equity groups Carlyle, Cinven and Altice, would hold the remaining 51% stake in the enlarged firm. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, SFR is France’s second largest cellular operator behind France Telecom-Orange, with almost 21 million subscribers and a 34.5% share of the market at the end of June 2012. SFR is also active in the broadband internet market, claiming over five million subscribers at mid-2012. Numericable, meanwhile, had an estimated 880,000 internet customers over its cable TV networks at the same date, with a network passing a total population of some 9.4 million.