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UPDATE 1-Italy's TIM ready to press ahead with unified network project

(Recasts, adds CEO comments, background)

MILAN, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Telecom Italia is ready to press ahead with a government-sponsored plan to merge its fixed network infrastructure with that of state-backed rival Open Fiber, Chief Executive Luigi Gubitosi said on Wednesday.

“We are ready to proceed, as soon as Open Fiber’s shareholders, I would say shareholder, takes a decision on the matter”, Gubitosi told analysts in a call on third-quarter results.

In August TIM agreed to sell to U.S. investment fund KKR a 37.5% stake of a newly created company, dubbed FiberCop, into which it is transferring its ‘last mile’ network connecting street cabinets to people’s homes.

Wholesale-only FiberCop will be in charge of gradually switching TIM’s last mile grid, which is mostly copper, to fiber with the aim of connecting 56% of the country’s households and businesses by 2025.

Separately, TIM has signed a preliminary agreement to merge FiberCop with smaller state-backed rival broadband group Open Fiber under a government-sponsored plan to boost connectivity across the country.

Open Fiber is jointly owned by utility Enel and state lender CDP, which is also TIM’s second-largest investor.

But the project, which faces valuation and regulatory hurdles, has yet to be finalised, pending a decision by Enel regarding a binding offer for its 50% stake in Open Fiber from Australian investment fund Macquarie.

“It’s very much in the hands of the government and CDP in their talks with Enel... I understand things are progressing,” Gubitosi said.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina and Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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