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NTL tipped to up bid for Virgin Mobile

OFT clears NTL/Telewest tie-up

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NTL is expected to up its offer for Virgin Mobile, according to reports, although there are doubts as to whether the revised bid by the UK cableco will be enough to secure a deal.

The Sunday Times reported that NTL is expected to increase its £817m offer for Virgin Mobile - which is 72 per cent owned by Sir Richard Branson - by around 10 per cent although any approach is unlikely to be made before next week.

Later reports suggested, though, that this might not be enough to satisfy demands by minority investors even though Branson is keen for the merger to go ahead, securing him a 14 - 15 per cent slice of the combined business.

Four weeks ago NTL and Virgin Mobile confirmed they were holding talks that could lead to the creation of a mega media business offering punters a four-play service of TV, fixed-line phone, broadband and mobile under the Virgin brand.

But the £817m offer was "unanimously rejected" by the board of Virgin Mobile which claimed that it undervalued the business.

Elsewhere, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has cleared the merger of NTL and Telewest deciding that the deal does not need to be referred to the Competition Commission. In October, NTL confirmed that it planned to snap up Telewest valuing the cableco at around $6bn.

Giving the merger the green light the OFT said: "Telewest and NTL are now the only two cable operators but, as their local networks do not overlap, they do not compete in providing services over cable and the potential for them to do so is minimal. Where they do overlap (in wholesale telecommunications services and narrowband internet) outside their local cable networks they will still face a number of other significant competitors."

The OFT also gave Sky's acquisition of broadband ISP EasyNet the thumbs-up saying that the deal would enable Sky to offer triple-play services (TV, phone and internet) and that "consumers may be expected to benefit from this".

In October, Sky announced it had agreed to shell out £211m to acquire broadband ISP Easynet in a deal that catapults the satellite broadcaster into the UK's telecoms sector. ®

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