Liberty's Casema buy reviewed by gov't

AMSTERDAM — Holland’s new populist party LPF could be a wild card in determining Dutch government reaction to a takeover of the cable sector by the American company Liberty Media.

Competition authorities say they will begin looking into the purchase of the French-owned Casema for $731 million in cash. Pact, when it goes through and if it is approved, would give Liberty roughly a 60% share of the cable market in this territory through its control of both Dutch-based United Pan-Europe Communications (UPC) and Casema.

Ad van Loon, manager of legal and regulatory affairs for Vecai, the umbrella org for the local cable industry, said the previous government had been concerned enough about the possible takeover of the Dutch cable biz “by the Americans” that it had asked the EC to determine if the industry Europe-wide should be protected by Brussels. The EC is considering the matter.

The new Dutch government took office recently in a tripartite coalition led by the Christian Democrats, who are likely to sympathize with the notions of the previous government.

Party position unclear

But the second-biggest party is the LPF, a populist group swept in on an emotional ticket following the May assassination of its leader, Pim Fortuyn. Fortuyn was an anti-immigrationist, but his party’s platform on a number of other issues, including antitrust, remains unclear.

The third party in the coalition is the anti-regulatory libertarian party VVD.

In Holland, each of the major cable companies is a monopolist in its own area, so regulators will be considering whether the deal violates national antitrust regulations. Casema is concentrated in the Hague, Utrecht and Breda and UPC in the greater Amsterdam area, giving Liberty control, if the deal goes through, of all cable in the country’s most heavily populated areas and its major business and financial centers.

Van Loon said Dutch cablers are also worried about increasing consolidation in the industry. “Five years ago there were 200 cable companies in this territory, and now there are 32. The five biggest represent 87% of the total market,” van Loon explained.

The third biggest cable company, Essent, which is concentrated in the north of the country, is owned by a coalition of provincial governments in Holland.

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