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AT&T Buys Verizon Spectrum for $1.9 Billion

January 25, 2013

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Verizon Wireless and AT&T continued to dance the spectrum shuffle today, with the companies inking deals for the transfer of licenses in the 700 MHz and AWS bands.

Verizon agreed to sell 39 lower 700 MHz B block licenses to AT&T for $1.9 billion. In exchange, AT&T will hand over 10 MHz of AWS spectrum to Verizon in western markets like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Fresno, and Portland, Oregon.

Verizon also sold 700 MHz B block licenses to Florida-based private equity firm Grain Management for $189 million in exchange for leased access to Grain's AWS spectrum in Dallas, Texas - which Grain is buying from AT&T.

The sales are part of Verizon's April 2012 promise to sell its 700 MHz spectrum if regulators approved its $3.6 billion purchase of spectrum from U.S. cable companies. That deal went through in August, and Verizon is now ridding itself of its 700 MHz licenses.

Back in 2008, Verizon spent $9.4 billion on 109 licenses in the 700-MHz band during an auction run by the Federal Communications Commisison, ending up with spectrum in the A, B, and C blocks. Verizon said last year that it has used spectrum in the upper C block to deploy its 4G LTE network, and plans to use the cable-owned spectrum to continue that rollout. As a result, Verizon is selling the 700-MHz spectrum it purchased in the A and B blocks to the highest bidder.

In the past few months, Verizon has inked 700 MHz spectrum deals with five small and regional telecom carriers, as well as one minority-owned firm. Today's AT&T deal, however, completes the sale of its lower 700 MHz holdings.

A list of the markets covered by the 39 licenses being sold to AT&T is available on Verizon's blog. The deal must be approved by the FCC and Department of Justice.

Carriers like Verizon and AT&T are snapping up spectrum left and right in order to deal with the increased bandwidth demands of smartphone- and tablet-hungry consumers. Both carriers are also building out their 4G LTE networks, which boosts speeds but includes even more bandwidth strains, resulting in the need for more spectrum.

Earlier this week, AT&T paid $780 million the U.S. retail wireless operations of Atlantic Tele-Network Inc. (ATNI), which operates under the Alltel brand in several markets. That includes wireless properties, spectrum licenses, network assets, retail stores, and about 585,000 subscribers.

The FCC, meanwhile, is planning to auction off more spectrum - specifically, unused broadcast spectrum. In a blog post, AT&T said today that it is also wants 600 MHz spectrum from the auction. "Freeing up more spectrum is critical to U.S. economic growth and technological leadership," the company said.




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