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Report: AT&T to Bid Against T-Mobile for Verizon Spectrum

Thu, 12/05/2013 - 10:15am
Ben Munson

Demand for Verizon’s lower 700 MHz spectrum seems to be growing by the day. AT&T is  rumored to be mulling a bid for Verizon’s A Block holdings, even as T-Mobile has already confirmed that it plans to pursue the licenses.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday AT&T’s potential interest in the A Block 700 MHz licenses and predicted Verizon could fetch as much as $2.75 billion for the spectrum.

Speaking last month with Reuters, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo confirmed that his company will consider selling the airwaves to T-Mobile. Speaking at a Wells Fargo conference in November, Shammo said the value of Verizon’s 700 MHz spectrum had increased due to an interoperability agreement between the FCC, operators and device manufacturers. But he also insisted that Verizon would not engage in a fire sale and would deploy on the airwaves if it couldn’t get fair value for them. 

T-Mobile has a definite interest in bolstering its lower-band spectrum holdings as it works toward building out an LTE network to compete with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Reuters suggested that the need for beachfront airwaves could drive T-Mobile to spend as much as $3 billion for Verizon’s A Block licenses.

In September, AT&T closed a deal with Verizon to buy 39 lower 700 MHz B Block licenses—covering parts of California, Florida, Illinois, New York and 14 more states—for $1.9 billion. In addition to the cash, AT&T handed Verizon AWS spectrum licenses in Phoenix, Ariz.; Los Angeles and Fresno, Calif.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Portland, Ore.

AT&T also recently agreed to acquire Leap Wireless for $1.2 billion in a deal that would give it access to Leap’s assets, including wireless spectrum. As part of the acquisition, Leap is offering shareholders a portion of the proceeds from the sale of a 700 MHz A Block license covering Chicago. Should the acquisition be approved, it will eventually fall to AT&T to market and sell the license.

AT&T already holds a good deal of the available 700 MHz licenses but considering the recent interoperability agreement could be looking to aggregate more. However, grabbing more spectrum below 1 GHz could possibly affect AT&T’s ability to participate in the FCC’s planned 600 MHz auction.

Sprint, T-Mobile and other smaller carriers have been urging the FCC to set a limit on the amount of below-1 GHz spectrum licenses any one operator can hold in individual markets. In the event a spectrum aggregation limit is adopted, AT&T could substantially miss out on the 600 MHz auction.

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