French, Italian Telcos Increase Role in Argentina

France Telecom SA and Telecom Italia SpA today announced they have increased their ownership in the consortium that owns 60 percent of Telecom Argentina SA.

The two telecom providers, who each have owned roughly one-third of the Nortel Inversora SA consortium for nearly a decade, have bought out the remainder of the consortium so that each now has a 50 percent share.

For a combined total of US$530 million [M], the two companies each bought half of the 35 percent share that Perez Companc and J.P. Morgan have held since 1990 when the consortium was established, France Telecom said today.

Thirty percent of Telecom Argentina is publically traded and the final 10 percent is owned by employee stockholders, according to information on the carrier's Web site.

With some 3.2 million [M] phone lines established in its market of northern Argentina and Buenos Aires, Telecom Argentina has been a strong financial performer, France Telecom said.

"This will have a positive result on our revenues," said France Telecom spokeswoman Nilou Du Castel today. "We were four owners and now we are two -- business will continue as usual."

Argentina is set to open to competition in its local and long-distance markets near the end of this year.

Argentina, Brazil and México are all seen as fast growing markets on the Latin American telecom scene. The current value of the telecommunications market in Latin America as a whole was estimated at $52.8 billion [B] as of this May, with a 12 percent annual growth rate expected to bring the market up to $74.1 billion [B] by 2002.

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