NTL paying $57 mil in Gallic net gain

Cabler segues to broadband

LONDON — NTL is buying French cable operator 1G Networks from France Telecom for $57 million. The move marks the acquisitive U.K. cabler’s first foray into the continental broadband market.

1G Networks provides TV to 266,000 households — 176,000 in Paris and 90,000 in Toulon. Subject to regulatory approval, the deal should clear some time in the fall.

NTL chief exec Barclay Knapp described the acquisition as “providing the company with a strategic entry point into France.” 1G Networks’ systems will be upgraded with digital TV, telephony and high-speed Internet services, an investment that will cost $60 million over five years.

The takeover comes hot on the heals of the NTL picking up Ireland’s Cablelink for $714 million last week. Cablelink is Ireland’s biggest cable TV outfit.

NTL is the third largest of Britain’s cablers, after Cable & Wireless Communications and Telewest. After Microsoft’s acquisition of 29.9% of Telewest, also last week, speculation is rife that further consolidation of the British cable market is imminent.

Microsoft already held a 5% stake in NTL, and NTL and Telewest share a joint venture in Front Row, the pay-per-view movie service. Prior to Microsoft’s move, CWC and Telewest admitted they were in talks toward a possible merger.