Speaking before a parliamentary committee, Altice president Patrick Drahi said French consolidation is “not vital”, while arguing he could have pulled it off a year ago.
“Can the market stay like this with four operators?”, asked Drahi. “Yes of course. Is it going to stay with four for the next ten years? That would surprise me, but it is not I who will change on this issue,” he said.
Drahi appeared before the Senate’s committee of economic affairs.
A year ago, Altice-controlled Numericable-SFR offered €10 billion to acquire smaller rival Bouygues Telecom, a move that would have reduced the number of operators in the country from four to three.
But the move ignited political opposition, with concerns expressed across a range of issues, including employment and network investment. Plus, Bouygues’ board rejected the offer, citing likely regulatory obstacles.
Drahi’s bid ultimately failed, as did a subsequent attempt by market leader Orange to acquire Bouygues Telecom, leaving France with its four operators.
To the committee, he said: “I proposed a simple solution on 3 June, 2015, I put the price on the table, explained it to the senators. And the first told me no, that is the state. I was very surprised. I stopped. But what’s weird is that six months later for the national champion, whose shareholder is the state, it was possible.”
“Except that it was too complicated. So we would have been better to take my solution, it would have been completed in three months,” he concluded.
Drahi’s comments were reported by Reuters and Les Echos.
Last week Orange Europe CEO Gervais Pellissier told Mobile World Live that he also thought there was no chance of operator M&A activity in France under the current regulatory structure.