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Italian operators reportedly beg government for debt relief

Having overbid for 5G spectrum a few years ago, Italian operators are apparently panicking now that the payments to the government are due.

Scott Bicheno

February 17, 2022

2 Min Read
Lots of various Euro cash notes covering the photo.

Having overbid for 5G spectrum a few years ago, Italian operators are apparently panicking now that the payments to the government are due.

This is according to Reuters, which got hold of a letter from Italian telecoms lobby group Assotelecomunicazioni (abbreviated, remarkably, to Asstel) to the Italian government. It pleaded with the state to allow a delay of payments, said to be in excess of €4 billion, that are due on winning auction bids later this year.

Asstel itself doesn’t seem to have published anything, preferring instead to leak the letter to Reuters for some reason. Maybe that’s because its head, Massimo Sarmi, seems to have embarked on a rather undignified whinge about how tough times are for Italian telcos, citing exceptional circumstances such as competition. He also made the entirely redundant point that if they hand over this cash to the government, they won’t be able to spend it on other stuff.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. Italian operators clearly overpaid for mid-band spectrum back in 2018 but nobody had a gun to their heads. It’s not difficult to design the auction process to maximise bids and we find it easy to imagine the Italian state did just that. But those operators have had almost four years to come to terms with their over-exuberance and plan around it.

This is starting to feel a bit like the situation in India, in which Vodafone Idea had to settle for a 2008-style government bailout in return for handing a chunk of the company over. What would the Italian operators do if their government tried the same move in response to this letter? However this plays out, hopefully they have at least learned to stay off the Grappa next time a spectrum auction kicks off.

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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