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EU approves cable operator merger

The European Commission has approved UnitedGlobalCom subsidiary UPC Broadband's acquisition of French cable company Noos without imposing any conditions.

UPC Broadband, ultimately owned by US group Liberty Media, informed the commission of its plans to buy Lyonnaise Communications, which trades under the Noos brand, from the French conglomerate Suez in early April.

After six weeks' examination, the commission concluded that the combination will control a modest share of the overall pay-TV market in France. Other players in the French market include Canal+, the country's leading pay-TV company, TPS, a French satellite pay-TV operator, and NC Numéricable, a cable operator.

The merged company will also provide internet and telephone services but will be far smaller than France's main provider, France Télécom.

UPC will face sufficient competition from NC Numéricable and France Télécom Cable, not only because of their noticeable presence in the pay-TV market, but also because of their strong presence in neighbouring markets such as TV content-provision, satellite and ADSL pay-TV, internet and telephony, the commission said.

The transaction takes place at a time when French telecommunication and media regulation is being revised and made easier for cable operators.

Until now, cable operators had to obtain licences from local government and could not serve a population of more than eight million. The changes to the French laws are intended to bring it into line with new Europe-wide legislation that aims to be technology-neutral in its application. This means that laws applying to distribution on phone lines cannot differ from laws applying to cable operators, satellite operators or any other distribution network.

Paul Meller writes for IDG News Service

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