Consolidation afoot for French telecom providers as SFR owner Altice bids for Bouygues Telecom

Industries Associated Press

The ambitious owner of France's phone and internet provider SFR is making an offer to buy rival Bouygues Telecom over the objections of the French government, which fears reduced competition and lost jobs.

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European telecommunications company Altice announced Monday that it has made an offer through its subsidiary Numericable-SFR for Bouygues.

Bouygues is holding a board meeting Tuesday and wouldn't immediately comment on the bid.

Economy minister Emmanuel Macron is warning against the deal — arguing a merger would raise competition and regulation issues, as it would reduce the country's number of mobile operators from four to three.

"Is it good for the economy? The answer is no. Is it good for investment? The answer is no. Is it good for employment? The answer is no," Macron told reporters.

Questioned about the appearance of government interference in a private deal, Macron said "my responsibility is to avoid having a 'too big to fail' player." ''If the biggest telecom operator blows up, guess what, who will pay for that? The government, which means the citizens."

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Macron didn't elaborate about what methods the government could use to block the deal, saying he'll wait for Bouygues' decision before making any move.

Macron will meet Altice founder and CEO Patrick Drahi on Tuesday.

Altice bought SFR from Vivendi last year in a deal valued at more than $20 billion, and recently entered the U.S. market with a $9.1 billion stake in Missouri-based Suddenlink Communications. Altice has operations in France, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Israel and elsewhere.