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Cyber war brews

Messier talks up Gallic internet domination

PARIS — Jean-Marie Messier, chairman of France’s utilities and communications group Vivendi (formerly Generale des Eaux), has said he wants his group to be the leading Internet-access provider in France.

His ambition will bring him to a head-to-head clash with state-owned France Telecom, which also says it plans to capture over 50% of the Gallic market by the year 2002.

Speaking at a week-long gathering of education and communication execs near Bordeaux, Messier predicted that the Internet market will take off in France within the next 18 months, much as the mobile telephone sector did last year.

Challenge launched

Vivendi is already involved in mobile telephony and this year launched its challenge to France Telecom in fixed telephony when the market was opened in January.

For the past few months, Messier has been preaching his gospel of convergence between content providers, such as Canal Plus — in which Vivendi is the lead shareholder — telephone operators and the Internet.

Three years ago, telecommunications accounted for 1% of Vivendi’s revenues. Last year that was up to 20% and Messier says that within two years that figure will have risen to over 30%. The group’s revs for 1997 were a chunky $27.8 billion.

Majority stake

Vivendi’s telephone subsid Cegetel and Canal Plus now have a majority stake in AOL France, which has some 290,000 subscribers, compared to France Telecom’s Wanadoo service, which claims 310,000.

As France currently only accounts for 1% of Internet users, both Vivendi and France Telecom are anticipating a sizable growth in the market.

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