Big telcos eye up AAPT in wake of Telecom NZ purchase

Three other carriers, including two from the US are still poised over Australia's third-largest telecommunications company AAPT, the company in which Telecom New Zealand took a 9.9% stake on Tuesday. Telecom spent $A71 million to counter a hostile takeover bid by Australia's second biggest carrier Cable & Wireless Optus, but C&W may yet come back with an offer to top Telecom's $5.75 a share. The highly acquisitive MCI WorldCom and another US telco are also thought to be interested.

As many as four carriers, including two from the US, are set to enter a bidding war for control of Australia's third-largest telecommunications company AAPT according to reports.

Telecom New Zealand confirmed yesterday that it spent $A171 million ($US115 million) for a 9.9% share in AAPT to counter a hostile takeover bid launched last month by Australia's second biggest carrier Cable & Wireless Optus (C&W Optus).

Bids from MCI WorldCom and another unidentified US carrier are also in the offing, according to local news agencies, quoting internal AAPT sources.

"Given Optus' bid for AAPT, Telecom New Zealand felt it prudent to take a minority position in order to preserve its strategic options," Telecom New Zealand Chief Financial Officer Jeff White said in a statement yesterday.

C&W Optus currently holds around 10.6% of AAPT, but saw its A$5 per share takeover bid rejected by AAPT last month as inadequate. AAPT officials said yesterday that Telecom New Zealand's share purchase, at an average of A$5.7 per share, vindicated the board's decision to reject C&W Optus' original bid.

Possible scenarios include a renewed bid at the higher price by either C&W Optus or Telecom New Zealand, or an even higher offer from MCI WorldCom, local analysts said. C&W Optus officials said they might walk away from a bidding war, while MCI WorldCom has made no statement about any possible interest.

The various carriers already cooperate on several projects. AAPT and Telecom New Zealand have long-standing commercial agreements over the routing of international calls. Telecom New Zealand and C&W Optus are also joint shareholders in the Southern Cross cable network, a sea cable being built between Sydney and the US West Coast for data communications.

AAPT has been more aggressive than its rivals C&W Optus and government-owned Telstra Corp. in cutting prices and offering new services in Australia, analysts say. The carrier plans increased competition and lower prices for corporate customers when it begins rolling out a $A126 million local multipoint distribution service (LMDS) broadband wireless network in major Australian cities later this year.

The company paid $A66 million [to the Australian Government in February to secure all the broadband wireless spectrum on offer, becoming the only telecommunications company in Australia with access to LMDS technology.

AAPT can be reached at http://www.aapt.com.au/. C&W Optus, can be reached at http://www.cwo.com.au/.

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