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Free signs new channels deal with Altice but sues over Virgin Mobile acquisition

Altice France/SFR has signed a new agreement with Iliad Telecom/Free for the continued carriage of its channels BFM TV, RMC Découverte, RMC Story, BFM Paris and BFM Lyon Métropole. At the same time, Free has opened hostilities with Altice on another front by filing a lawsuit.

The agreement for carriage of Altice France’s TV channels covers the renewal of distribution of BFM TV, RMC Découverte and RMC Story and adds Altice’s local channels BFM Paris and BFM Lyon Métropole to the Free line-up.

The deal comes after Altice France CEO Alain Weill admitted defeat and said he would make the group’s TV channels BFM TV, BFM Business, RMC Découverte and RMC Story available free of charge to operators after rival service provider Orange came good on its threat to cut their signal in the absence of a deal between the pair. Weill had been pressing for service providers to pay for carriage of the group’s channels, a concession secured by national broadcasters TF1 and M6 earlier this year.

Free had earlier cut the TV channels from its line-up after refusing to pay carriage fees for the channels, which, combined with Orange’s decision meant that BFM TV set to lose a huge portion of its audience.

Free expressed tanks to media regulator the CSA, whose intervention had enabled the renewed transmission of the Altice channels’ signal.

Free has however, launched an attack on Altice on another front. The group has filed a complaint over alleged illegal practices on the part of Altice that prevented Free from acquiring Virgin Mobile in 2014.

According to press reports, Free is claiming €216 million in damages, with the first hearing set for October 4.

Free and Altice were both potential acquirers of Virgin Mobile alongside others. Altice ultimately prevailed, but the acquisition was carried out at the same time that the company was acquiring SFR from Vivendi.

According to Free’s complaint, Altice and SFR began collaborating before the deal secured regulatory approval from France’s competition watchdog, the Autorité de la Concurrence.

According to Free, the pair’s collaboration – illegal under French rules – extended to developing a common strategy around the acquisition of Virgin mobile with Vivendi, another potential buyer, informing Altice of the price it was willing to pay. According to the allegations, the two companies agreed that Altice would submit an offer for Virgin Mobile, with the price to be shared between it and Vivendi.

Altice was fined some €124.5 million in 2016 for moving ahead with plans for the integration of SFR ahead of receiving a regulatory green light for that acquisition.