The long-running and often bitter dispute Telekom Srbija and United Group has taken a new and unexpected twist.
It involves a third party – Telenor’s Serbian operation, owned Petr Kellner’s PPF Group – which has until now been little more than a bystander.
Reports have suggested that Telekom Srbija plans to open up its cable infrastructure to Telenor so that it can compete more effectively with United Group’s Serbia Broadband (SBB). Or more specifically, reduce SBB’s market share to below 30%.
Telenor at first issued a neutral statement in which it insisted it operated within the legal framework in Serbia. Then, on January 27, it published something more substantial which said that it “flatly denies all accusations which United Group has offered to the media in recent days”. It also denied that a merger is planned between Telenor and Telekom and that it will assume control of any of Telekom’s infrastructure.
Yet significantly, Telenor conceded that it has plans to enter the broadband and TV content market in Serbia as a standalone player, utilising its infrastructure, consisting of over 2,200 base stations and 6,100 km of fibre. “However, when additional capacities are needed for providing impeccable service to customers, we commercially lease infrastructure from different partners – including both from Telekom and SBB. Infrastructure lease is a common and fully lawful business practice for all operators”.
The TV station N1, which is part of SBB, has provided detailed reports about the dispute, albeit from United Group’s perspective. In one dated January 28, it discusses a statement from Telekom Srbija – not available on the latter’s site – in which the telco confirmed for the first time that it is working with Telenor. N1 nevertheless argues that the statement “does not show the intent of the agreement” and, referring to documents it has seen, that the contract between Telekom and Telenor was signed in order to break up SBB’s cable business and jeopardise United Group.
This dispute can be seen as the latest chapter in the one between Telekom Srbija and United Group and clearly still has a long way to run.
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