Telecom Italia urged to merge

Shareholder says Telefonica to good match

Telecom Italia, which controls Italo TV networks La7, MTV Italia and QOOB, should merge with Spanish telco Telefonica, according to a major shareholder, fueling speculation that has reached fever pitch in recent weeks.

Marco Fossati, whose family has a 4.45% stake in the Italo company, has said he favors a merger between Telefonica and Telecom Italia via a share swap in two or three years, or by 2011 at the latest.

Fossati said three or four international groups might be interested in taking over Telecom Italia, which he said was worth at least E40 billion ($63.3 billion) — nearly twice its current market value.

Persistent rumors have suggested that Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset broadcast group might make a move, but he described the rumors as “pure fantasy” on Thursday. Berlusconi is tipped to become Italian prime minister for the third time in the election, which concludes today.

Fossati said, however, that Telecom Italia would have to aim for alliances at an international level with Mediaset or Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. at some stage.

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