UPDATE 1-Spain's Asterion buys stake in Italian fibre-optic group Retelit

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MILAN, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Spain’s Asterion said on Thursday it had snapped up a stake in fibre-optic group Retelit in a deal signalling growing interest by foreign funds in Italy’s telecom sector as Rome pushes ahead with plans for a national ultra-fast broadband network.

Asterion said it had secured 24.1% stake in Milan-listed Retelit for 92.6 million euros ($108.77 million), becoming the top investor in the group which operates around 14,000 km of fibre cables across Italy.

Rome’s plan to promote a fibre-optic roll out across the country is drawing interest from infrastructure investors, eyeing steady returns at a time of sub-zero rates amid growing demand for high-speed connectivity.

Asterion’s foray into the Italian broadband market follows U.S. private equity fund KKR’s purchase of a minority stake in the grid of former phone monopoly Telecom Italia (TIM) in August.

Last month Macquarie made a binding offer for a stake in state-backed broadband operator Open Fiber.

Italy’s government sees building an broadband network as a strategic priority to help the country revive a sluggish economy, which has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, by increasing digitalisation.

The government is sponsoring a plan to create a national ultra-fast grid operator combining network assets held by TIM with those of state-backed Open Fiber.

Such an operator, in which state lender CDP would emerge as a major shareholder in the venture, would be open to other players and would be a candidate for grants from Europe’s Recovery Fund. ($1 = 0.8514 euros) (Reporting by Elvira Pollina; editing by David Evans)