5G and Beyond

Verizon snaps up another small wireless network operator

Verizon appears to have acquired the 4G mobile network and spectrum of Missouri's Chariton Valley Communications Corporation (CVCC), based on new filings the companies recently made with the FCC.

"The proposed transaction includes the assignment of the identified [spectrum] licenses and the LTE operating network, including LTE network assets and facilities. ... The proposed transaction will expand Verizon Wireless's coverage and service into markets that Verizon Wireless does not currently serve. The proposed transaction also will provide Verizon Wireless with additional spectrum capacity, which will help it to meet future demands of its customers for broadband wireless services in the markets," the companies wrote. "Chariton Valley's customers will be given advance notice of the proposed transaction. Chariton Valley will advise its approximately 7,300 customers of the sale to Verizon Wireless in the affected markets and release its customers from their service contracts."

Verizon said it will provide those stranded customers with unspecified "incentives" to switch to Verizon's network.

An official from Verizon did not immediately respond to questions from Light Reading on the transaction. An official from CVCC declined to provide a comment.

However, the deal certainly dovetails with Verizon's strategy of late. The operator has been buying several smaller, regional wireless network operators in recent months, including Monanta's Triangle Mobile, Bluegrass Cellular in Kentucky, Chat Mobility in Iowa and Blue Wireless in New York and Pennsylvania.

Most of the companies were members of Verizon's LTE in Rural America (LRA) program, which was designed to expand Verizon's coverage via partnerships with rural network operators. That program spanned 18 carriers in 2019, covering a combined total of around 2.5 million people across more than 129,000 square miles via 1,350 cell sites in 13 states. CVCC joined the program in 2011.

Verizon isn't the only big wireless network operator chewing through its smaller rivals. For example, T-Mobile in the past year or so has acquired Sprint and Shentel.

However, Verizon's deal with CVCC has a number of novel elements, according to Brian Goemmer, founder of spectrum-tracking company AllNet Insights & Analytics. He explained that CVCC is also selling some of its spectrum licenses to AT&T and UScellular.

Specifically, Goemmer pointed to FCC filings that indicate CVCC is exiting from its fixed wireless Internet business by the end of October, and will sell the 700MHz spectrum it was using for that service to AT&T. On its website, CVCC confirmed it plans to shutter its fixed wireless Internet offering to focus on its fiber service. UScellular, meanwhile, will pick up some of CVCC's PCS spectrum licenses.

"It is an interesting exit," Goemmer wrote of CVCC's transactions. "Typically buyouts include all of the spectrum assets and subscribers. I don't know that I have ever seen an exit crafted this way. I understand why Verizon didn't want the 700MHz B and C block spectrum (compatible with AT&T's spectrum concentration) but leaving the PCS spectrum for USCellular is unusual since they have widely deployed that frequency band. In acquiring Chat Mobility and Bluegrass Cellular, Verizon acquired 600MHz spectrum assets that don't align with their spectrum plans, but they still retain that spectrum."

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

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