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TIM debates grid bids as investor Vivendi challenges strategy

Illustration shows Telecom Italia (TIM) logo

By Elvira Pollina

MILAN (Reuters) - Telecom Italia (TIM) directors will meet on Thursday to decide their response to multibillion bids for the phone company's landline grid as top investor Vivendi calls into question the group's strategy.

The sale of TIM's fixed network and its submarine cable unit Sparkle is the focus of CEO Pietro Labriola's plan to slash the company's 25 billion euros ($27.6 billion) of debt and revive the former phone monopoly's struggling domestic business.

Rival suitors KKR and a consortium comprising Italian state lender CDP and Macquarie have offered 21 billion euros and 19.3 billion euros respectively, sources have previously said, each raising initial bids by 1 billion euros. KKR's bid includes a potential 2 billion euro payment based on future performance.

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TIM is expected to seek a third round of offers, other sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, despite Vivendi calling on TIM to draw a line under the bidding process, given the yawning gap to what it thinks should be paid.

KKR's bid is seen as the stronger alternative on the back of a significant effort to improve the detailed terms of its offer beyond the headline figure, according to sources in TIM's camp.

However, both approaches for TIM's most valuable asset remain a long way below the 31 billion euros sought by Vivendi and also fell short of market expectations.

Telecom Italia shares have fell by 21% since the suitors submitted the improved bids on April 18.

French media giant Vivendi, which owns a 23.8% stake in TIM, in the past months relinquished its seats on the board and is calling for changes to how the group is run as it aims to negotiate an alternative plan with the Italian government.

For her part, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni last month said her right-wing administration will not intervene at this stage in the network sale process, although it is on alert to avoid any risk to the national interest.

($1 = 0.9050 euros)

(Reporting by Elvira Pollina; Editing by Keith Weir)