Friday, January 25, 2013

Spectrum Win-Win for Two Giants

Today AT&T agreed to acquire spectrum in the 700 MHz B band from Verizon Wireless for $1.9 billion in cash and Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum licenses in several markets, including Phoenix, Ariz., Los Angeles and Fresno, Calif. and Portland, Ore.

The 700 MHz licenses to be acquired by AT&T cover 42 million people in 18 states — California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.  Here are the following CMAs (Cellular Market Areas):

·         California: Los Angeles
·         Colorado: Park, Fort Collins-Loveland, Pueblo,
·         Florida: Miami, West Palm Beach, Bradenton
·         Idaho: Butte
·         Illinois: Chicago
·         Louisiana: De Soto, Claiborne, Morehouse, Lake Charles, Alexandria
·         Montana: Billings, Beaverhead, Great Falls, Carbon
·         New Mexico: Grant
·         New York: Rochester
·         Ohio: Cincinnati, Youngstown
·         Oklahoma: Oklahoma City
·         South Dakota: Rapid City, Harding
·         Tennessee: Memphis
·         Texas: Texarkana, Edwards, Waco, Tyler, Longview-Marshall
·         Utah: Box-Elder, Carbon, Beaver, Piute
·         Virginia: Frederick
·         Washington: Okanogan
·         Wyoming: Sheridan, Casper

Yet another interesting sideline is the involvement of a Sarasota, FL private equity firm, Grain Management.  Verizon is selling spectrum in several North Carolina markets to Grain Management. Grain is also acquiring an AWS license covering Dallas from AT&T—and Verizon will lease that license from Grain.
Recall in Auction 73, the Lower 700 Band was up for grabs.  

How did Verizon do?

  • Block A – Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular both bought 25 licenses each. In this block, Verizon targeted urban areas, while U.S. Cellular bought licenses primarily in the northern portion of the U.S. 
  • Block B – AT&T Mobility was the biggest buyer in the B block, with 227 licenses totaling $6.6 billion. U.S. Cellular and Verizon bought 127 and 77 licenses, respectively. AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless bought licenses around the country, while U.S. Cellular continued with its strategy to buy licenses in northern regions. 
  • Block C – Of the 10 licenses in the C Block, Verizon Wireless bought the 7 that cover the contiguous 48 states (and Hawaii). Those seven licenses cost Verizon roughly $4.7 Billion. 

Why? It's a win-win because Verizon Wireless wanted to unload the 700 MHz bands (A and B Block) as its C Block and its recent AWS spectrum acquired from Cable Company partners gave a sufficient footprint nationally.  AT&T needed it to fill B Block holes nationally.  It was almost a given that AT&T would be the buyer. As an aside, earlier this month,  Verizon sold some A Block licenses to US Cellular. 

The interesting go-between of a private equity firm is notable.  It's clear that PE firms do not operate networks but a licensing/leasing arrangement from these big carriers will bring in recurring revenue.