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Regulator eyes competition issues in Spark's TeamTalk bid

Monday 3rd April 2017

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The Commerce Commission has outlined where it's looking for any competition issues in Spark New Zealand's hostile bid for telecommunications firm TeamTalk. 

Auckland-based Spark is offering 80 cents a share to buy the much smaller TeamTalk, telling the antitrust regulator the $22.7 million acquisition would give it "more control over its input costs and provide an improved experience for its business customers" and scope to compete more aggressively with rivals which own infrastructure, as well as wholesale network owner Chorus. 

Spark carved out its regulated infrastructure assets when it demerged from Chorus, but has since been looking at ways to cut what it spends on wholesale access to the copper network, aggressively marketing its wireless broadband service and seeking more control of fibre lines. 

The Commerce Commission will look at the extent of overlap between Spark and TeamTalk, which Spark downplayed in its application as being minimal, and will look at whether adding wholesale services to Spark's retail business poses any competition issues. The regulator said it would also look at whether the aggregation of complementary services would create the ability or incentive for Spark to squeeze competitors by forcing bundled services on to its customers. 

The regulator is scheduled to make a decision by May 22, although that may get pushed out. 

The application may ultimately be for nothing with the status of Spark's takeover currently thwarted by TeamTalk's plan to sell a controlling stake in rural internet service provider Farmside to Vodafone New Zealand. The transaction breaches several conditions of the takeover and would need a waiver by Spark for its own offer to proceed. 

TeamTalk's board has urged its shareholders to reject Spark's bid, calling it too low and "opportunistic", and have an independent valuation of $1.52-to-$2.11 a share. Spark has called that value an "absurd premium", however Vodafone's proposed purchase of Farmside was at a premium to the value ascribed to the business by the valuation. 

Spark shares were unchanged at $3.50, while TeamTalk's rose 3.4 percent to 91 cents. 



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