Four-way battle reported for Australian telco

Four-way battle reported for Australian telco

As many as four carriers, including two from the U.S., are set to enter a bidding war for control of Australia's third-largest telecommunications company AAPT according to reports.

Telecom New Zealand confirmed last week that it spent $171 million for a 9.9 per cent share in AAPT to counter a hostile takeover bid launched last month by Australia's second biggest carrier Cable & Wireless Optus (C&W Optus).

Bids from MCI WorldCom and another unidentified U.S. carrier are also in the offing, according to local news agencies, quoting internal AAPT sources.

"Given Optus' bid for AAPT, Telecom New Zealand felt it prudent to take a minority position in order to preserve its strategic options," Telecom New Zealand Chief Financial Officer Jeff White said in a statement released by the company.

C&W Optus currently holds around 10.6 per cent of AAPT, but saw its $5 per share takeover bid rejected by AAPT last month as inadequate. AAPT officials said yesterday that Telecom New Zealand's share purchase, at an average of $5.7 per share, vindicated the board's decision to reject C&W Optus' original bid.

Possible scenarios include a renewed bid at the higher price by either C&W Optus or Telecom New Zealand, or an even higher offer from MCI WorldCom, local analysts said. C&W Optus officials said they might walk away from a bidding war, while MCI WorldCom has made no statement about any possible interest.

The various carriers already cooperate on several projects. AAPT and Telecom New Zealand have long-standing commercial agreements over the routing of international calls. Telecom New Zealand and C&W Optus are also joint shareholders in the Southern Cross cable network, a sea cable being built between Sydney and the U.S. West Coast for data communications.

AAPT has been more aggressive than its rivals C&W Optus and government-owned Telstra in cutting prices and offering new services in Australia, analysts say. The carrier plans increased competition and lower prices for corporate customers when it begins rolling out a $126 million local multipoint distribution service (LMDS) broadband wireless network in major Australian cities later this year.

The company paid $66 million to the Australian Government in February to secure all the broadband wireless spectrum on offer, becoming the only telecommunications company in Australia with access to LMDS

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