BT's Belgacom bid

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The Independent Online

Industrial Correspondent

BT is bidding for a stake in the Belgian state-owned public telephone company in co-operation with Bell Atlantic, one of the regional US operators. The partners are among four bidders announced yesterday for a stake of at least 25 per cent in Belgacom.

BT declined to reveal details, but it is thought Bell Atlantic would take the lead management role should the bid succeed. They are competing with Stet, the Italian state-owned company, Ameritech of the US, and a consortium including the Dutch public telephone operator and Swiss Telecom.

The Belgian government, which has not specified the exact size of the stake on offer, is likely to announce a shortlist by August. The final choice of buyer could take until next year.

The sale of a slice of Belgacom is the latest stage in the shake-up of world telephony markets. BT's involvement also underlines the group's drive to expand outside its regulated business in the UK.

BT already has a joint venture with MCI of the US, called Concert, to provide global communications for big business. In Europe, it has forged alliances with companies such as Viag of Germany, Albacom of Italy and Banco Santander in Spain, as well as big operators in Scandinavia. The major missing link in the chain so far is the company's plans to attack the French market.

Last month, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom said they intended to spend up to $4.2bn buying 20 per cent of Sprint, the US long-distance company, as part of a long-term strategy to forge a global telecommunications alliance. The proposal is yet to be approved by regulatory authorities and is being fiercely opposed by BT and by US giant AT&T.