Altice founder Patrick Drahi has increased his stake in BT from 12% to 18%, increasing speculation that he could look to exert even more influence on the country’s largest telecommunications provider, or even stage a full takeover.
Drahi's initial £2.2 billion move back in June took many in the industry by surprise and made him BT’s largest individual shareholder. He then pledged not to launch a takeover bid for at last six months, a legally-binding commitment that expired on December 11.
Drahi has wasted no time, investing another £1 billion to increase the holding of his Altice UK vehicle. His next move is unclear, but it has previously been suggested that Deutsche Telekom’s 12% stake could be of interest.
Deutsche Telekom acquired a 12% stake after receiving shares through BT’s 2016 takeover of mobile operator EE. If Drahi did buy the German telco out, then it would take Altice UK past the 30% threshold and would require it to make an offer for the entire of BT.
However, in a statement to the London Stock Exchange, Drahi attempted to pour cold water on any takeover talk by reiterating his support for the company’s existing management structure.
“We are pleased to take this opportunity to increase our shareholding in BT. Over recent months we have engaged constructively with the board and management of BT and look forward to continuing that dialogue,” said Drahi. “We continue to hold them in high regard and remain fully supportive of their strategy, principally to play the pivotal role in delivering the expansion of access to a full fibre broadband network; an investment programme which is so important to both BT and to the UK.”
In any case, the UK government could intervene if it felt Drahi’s growing interest threatened BT’s rollout of full fibre and 5G infrastructure – deployments that it considers to be of strategic national importance.
“We are monitoring the situation carefully,” a spokesperson said. “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 telecoms infrastructure.”
Meanwhile, BT has said it is business as usual:
“The board of BT Group has been notified that Altice UK has increased its interest in BT Group’s voting share capital from 12.1% to 18.0%. The board and management of BT Group will continue to operate the business in the interest of all shareholders and remains focussed on the successful execution of its strategy and building on recent performance momentum.”
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.