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21 December 2021

Altice’s Drahi increases stake in BT to 18%, likely to seek more

By Wireless Watch Staff

After months of anticipation, Patrick Drahi, the billionaire who controls the French-based Altice telecoms group, has increased his stake in UK incumbent BT, from 12.1% to 18%.

This had been widely expected since Drahi became BT’s largest shareholder in June – a regulatory clause prevented him from acquiring more than 12.1% at that time, but that expired last week. Reports that he will make a bid for full control of BT have been circulating for weeks and have now only intensified.

Any takeover would require UK government approval, and while successive administrations have failed to protect key technology assets, such as ARM, there may be a different view when it comes to the largest wireline and wireless operator, which also owns the Openreach wholesale fiber business, and a great deal of national infrastructure that could be deemed to be of critical importance.

The government said it was “monitoring the situation carefully” and added in a statement to the press: “The government is committed to levelling up the country through digital infrastructure, and will not hesitate to act if required to protect our critical national infrastructure.”

One of Drahi’s next steps could be to buy the 12% stake held by Deutsche Telekom, whose CEO, Timotheus Höttges, has indicated his possible interest in selling. “There will be discussions, definitely,” he commented on the issue during the summer, adding: “We are a little bit of a kingmaker here. We have an asset where we have a lot to say and a lot of influence. We are ready to talk.”

In October, BT hired advisory firm Robey Warshaw to work alongside Goldman Sachs to help them build defences against a potential takeover bid.