Verizon to buy Bluegrass Cellular in ongoing rural push

Verizon announced it will purchase another wireless provider in rural America, a further indication of Verizon's voracious appetite for additional customers and spectrum.

Verizon said it signed an agreement to acquire Bluegrass Cellular in Kentucky. The operator confirmed to Light Reading that the agreement covers 17 Bluegrass retail stores, the operator's network assets (including cell towers, cell site equipment, switch equipment and spectrum) and roughly 210,000 Bluegrass customers.

"We look forward to welcoming Bluegrass customers and employees into the Verizon family and providing them with reliable wireless service alongside a best-in-class customer experience," said Verizon's consumer chief Ronan Dunne in a release from the operator.

The acquisition is subject to FCC approval and other conditions, and is expected to close late this year or early in 2021. The operator declined to provide the financial details of the transaction.

Verizon's Bluegrass purchase builds on the operator's recent efforts to expand its services in rural areas. In the past handful of months, Verizon has purchased most of the spectrum licenses from two small wireless network operators, Chat Mobility and Blue Wireless. And according to Brian Goemmer, founder of spectrum-tracking company AllNet Insights & Analytics, those are just two of almost a dozen spectrum transactions that Verizon has been involved with this year.

Verizon was also the biggest spender during the FCC's recent CBRS spectrum auction, dropping almost $2 billion for a total of 557 licenses. However, most of those licenses are in major cities, and Verizon is widely expected to use the spectrum to add capacity to its network in high-traffic areas.

Further, Verizon is also widely expected to bid heavily in the upcoming C-band spectrum auction.

Verizon's recent acquisitions likely reflect the fact that Verizon is the largest wireless network operator in the US in terms of the size of its customer base, but it's dead last in terms of midband and lowband spectrum ownership.

If Verizon's deal for Bluegrass is approved, the 210,000 Bluegrass customers would be added to Verizon's base at roughly the same time that Verizon is set to acquire 8 million new customers through the operator's pending $7 billion acquisition of TracFone.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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