This was already destined to be an interesting day for Dish Network as it prepares its annual presentation at the International CES confab in Las Vegas to unveil expanded services for its Hopper DVR and Sling Internet streaming box. But the most important development so far was out of its hands: T-Mobile effectively raised the value of airwave spectrum — which Dish has been amassing — by agreeing to a $3.3B deal to acquire a swath of 700 MHz A-Block rights from Verizon. (T-Mobile will pay $2.4B in cash, and swap some of its spectrum valued at $950M.) The transaction should improve T-Mobile’s reach in nine of the 10 largest markets and “represent(s) our biggest move yet in a series of initiatives that are rapidly expanding our already lightning fast network and improving its performance across the country,” says the company’s dynamic CEO John Legere. But the news also nudged up Dish shares to touch $58.48, the highest they’ve been in more than a decade. Using the T-Mobile deal as a benchmark, Dish’s spectrum rights are probably worth $21.4B, Wells Fargo Securities analyst Marci Ryvicker estimates — up from her previous estimate of $14.9B. That “reinforces our belief that there is significant present and future value” in Dish’s holdings, she says. Chairman Charlie Ergen wants to build his own wireless broadband operation and last month announced a plan to team with Sprint for a test this year …
This was an important part of the controversial $3.6B deal that Verizon cut in late 2011 with Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other cable operators. The cable guys ditched their plans to create their own wireless phone service, selling spectrum they controlled to Verizon with an agreement to jointly develop new products and cross-promote each other’s services in markets where they don’t compete head-to-head. But in August the technology venture was quietly “terminated and we are moving in our separate ways on that,” Verizon CFO Fran Shammo told analysts in a conference call today to discuss earnings. The change will enable Verizon Wireless and Verizon’s FiOS service to break down an “artificial wall” so it can offer consumers “the best product available between Wireline and Wireless.” Verizon and Big Cable still plan to distribute each other’s products in markets where they don’t compete. Verizon added in a statement that “all parties” in the JV agreed to the shift to reflect “evolving technology and market changes since the joint venture was formed.” The company adds that it will join cable operators to “collaborate on technology in the future.” The FCC and Justice Department approved the spectrum and joint venture deal last year over the objections of consumer advocates who said that it would reduce competition in cable and in wireless.
The No. 1 wireless carrier agreed to make the payment, and to relax its restrictions on tethering, as part of a consent decree announced today by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. The regulatory agency found that Verizon Wireless went over the line when it persuaded Google to disable tethering applications in its Google Play Store. That meant the apps would not work when customers tried to feed Internet service from their Verizon 4G LTE wireless phones to other devices, including laptops and tablets. Verizon wants customers to pay extra for its tethering service, Mobile Broadband Connect, saying that customers use more data when they connect phones with other devices. But the FCC says that the restriction violated a requirement that applies to a swath of spectrum the company uses: It stipulates that licensees “shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice.” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says the consent decree shows that “compliance with FCC obligations is not optional.” He adds that the agreement “will not only protect consumer choice, but defend certainty for innovators to continue to deliver new services and apps without fear of being blocked.”
The letter from 32 House Democrats to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and Attorney General Eric Holder comes as the two agencies head into the home stretch of their review of Verizon‘s nearly $4B deal to buy wireless spectrum from Comcast and other cable companies — and cross-market each other’s services. The FCC is expected to approve it, but the Justice Department remains concerned that it might result in rate hikes, Reuters reports. The FCC declined Friday to grant a critic of the deal, Public Knowledge, additional time to comment on it. The letter today from the House Democrats says that the Verizon-cable deal would “appear to turn the promise of the 1996 Telecommunications Act on its head.” When the law wiped away many cable regulations, “consumers were promised the benefits of increased competition between cable and phone companies, driving investment in broadband networks, creating jobs, enabling new and improved services and applications, and lower prices.” But Verizon’s deal with cable “would eliminate or reduce cross-platform competition and diminish incentives to expand FiOS deployment. This would leave many of the communities that we represent on the wrong side of the digital divide.” The companies have told Congress that the new arrangement would help the companies to create broadband services without diminishing competition. “There’s nothing in these transactions that will stop us from trying to beat the brains out of FiOS,” Comcast EVP David Cohen said in March. Here’s today’s letter:
The reason: T-Mobile probably will now end its effort to block Verizon Wireless’ deal to pay nearly $4B for Comcast and other cable operators’ wireless spectrum — part of a broad peace agreement between the companies. Verizon Wireless said today that it will turn over to T-Mobile spectrum that reaches 60M potential customers (including areas of the northeast where T-Mobile is weak) in return for cash and spectrum that reaches 22M people (including several areas in California). While the companies didn’t say how much cash was involved, Bernstein Research figures it’s about $260M. But the arrangement “is contingent on the closing” of Verizon Wireless’ deals with cable, which are being reviewed by the Justice Department and the FCC. Last week T-Mobile told the FCC that Verizon’s pact with cable “poses grave competitive concerns” and would significantly diminish competition for wireless broadband in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Detroit. Verizon’s new deal with T-Mobile also requires FCC approval. Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead says that the T-Mobile agreement “is further evidence of the importance of a secondary spectrum market to give the companies the flexibility to exchange or acquire spectrum to meet customers’ growing demands for wireless data services.”
Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett calls Verizon Wireless’ new Share Everything fee plan ”the most profound change to pricing (that) the telecom industry has seen in twenty years.” But entertainment companies will want to know whether the arrangement will encourage or discourage video streaming and downloading on smartphones and tablets. Under the new plan, which begins June 28, customers will pay for a certain amount of gigabytes of data transmission per month that can be used for voice calls, text messages, video streams — almost anything. The service also can cover up to 10 devices: Although customers will have to pay a monthly fee for each device added, someone with a smartphone and a tablet won’t need to subscribe to two data plans. Receivers also can serve as mobile hotspots — feeding Internet data to other devices — without an additional fee. (Separate accounts are still
UPDATED: Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead says this is ”one of our most important announcements of the year.” The service will be in the market within a month, he told attendees at The Cable Show in Boston. It initially will be available to Verizon Wireless customers with 4G LTE Android devices, but other systems will be added “soon.” Comcast Xfinity is the first partner, Mead says. The company adds that Hulu Plus, mSpot and Netflix will also participate at launch, and Verizon FiOS is “expected to be added soon.” Consumers would use Viewdini to find entertainment available for their mobile device. “We’ve been working on this for a couple of years,” Mead says. “We saw the hunger of consumers to get this information,” he added calling Viewdini “a very simple consumer experience.”
Here’s the company’s release:
Verizon Wireless’ plan to acquire $3.6 billion worth of spectrum from SpectrumCo — a joint venture of Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks — has raised eyebrows at the antitrust division of the U.S. Justice Department. The deal, which involves the purchase of 122 spectrum licenses, is supposed to be used by the nation’s largest mobile carrier to build out a 4G LTE network, according to our sister site BGR. But a Justice spokeswoman said today the acquisition is under investigation for whether it puts too much spectrum in the hands of one company, impacting competition in the wireless and cable sectors; Verizon made a similar deal last week to buy Cox Communications’ spectrum. “This agreement is diminishing competition in every way,” Mark Cooper, director of research at Consumer Federation of America, told Bloomberg. “It means the cable companies are no longer trying to do their own thing in wireless, it concentrates ownership of spectrum and it turns rivals such as Verizon and Comcast into partners.” Verizon said it had not received any information about the probe.
It’s hard to figure out Verizon’s place in the infotainment world — and CEO Lowell McAdam kept things murky in his appearance today at the UBS Annual Global Media and Communications Conference. He wouldn’t address this week’s surprising report that the phone giant might launch its own national movie and TV streaming service, potentially pitting it against Netflix. But he’s clearly interested in the business: McAdam said that Verizon seriously considered bidding for Hulu. “The jury’s out, but I do believe there’s a place for over-the-top” — jargon for a digital alternative to traditional pay TV — he said. “That model has yet to be determined and I hope we’ll be a player in that.” Wouldn’t that hurt Verizon’s FiOS, which provides a cable-like TV service to 4M subscribers? “Over-the-top can be complementary,” McAdam says. ”I don’t think it’s one thing or the other.” He was equally certain that FiOS “will not be disadvantaged” by Verizon’s new agreement with Comcast and other cable operators: The phone company will pay them $3.6B for their wireless spectrum — but also give them opportunities to sell Verizon Wireless phone service, even in markets where they compete with FiOS. McAdam says that he expects FiOS to eventually capture as much as 50% of the video and broadband customers in the markets it serves.
Comcast CFO Mike Angelakis says that The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter was so successful for Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure that it became “a reset mechanism” for the theme park. But he stopped short of confirming reports that the company plans to bring Potter to Universal Studios Hollywood, even as he gave analysts attending the UBS Annual Global Media and Communications Conference every reason to believe that they’re accurate. Indeed, he seemed determined to avoid making news, sticking instead to Comcast’s familiar talking points: He acknowledged that there are “challenges” at NBC but says it’s also ”an opportunty for us,” adding that Comcast is “investing where we can have a level of success.” He vowed to be ”disciplined” in bidding for sports programming, calling Comcast’s agreement in June to pay $4.4B for U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics from 2014 to 2020 “a smart deal for us.” The company also talked up its new pact to sell wireless spectrum to Verizon Wireless, with the companies cross-selling each other’s products. “We don’t have to build a wireless network,” Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit says. “We’re thrilled.” He noted that Comcast will be able to sell Verizon Wireless phone services even in markets where the cable company competes with Verizon’s FiOS video and broadband offering.
The deal looks like good news for cable operators — and Dish Network, which is amassing wireless spectrum to transmit entertainment on its own national broadband service. In effect, the cable guys are finally acknowledging that it’s too late for them to compete with Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint by creating their own wireless phone business. Cox tried in a few communities, but said two weeks ago that it has stopped selling new subscriptions — and will stop providing any service in March. Now Comcast, Time Warner Cable and BrightHouse Networks are following suit: Pending approval by the FCC and antitrust regulators, their joint venture, called SpectrumCo, will provide Verizon with 122 licenses for wireless airwaves that reach about 259M people. (The technical term is POPs, for ”points of presence.”) Comcast owns the biggest stake in the venture and will collect about $2.3B; Time Warner Cable should receive $1.1B and BrightHouse $189M. Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker figures the companies will see a 60% profit from the investments in spectrum that they made beginning in 2006. The companies say that the deal is “an important step toward ensuring that the needs and desires of consumers for additional mobile services will not be thwarted by the current spectrum shortage.” But cable isn’t shutting the door on wireless. Verizon and the cable guys say that they “will become agents to sell one another’s products” — and that could include opportunities for cable operators to become wholesalers …
BASKING RIDGE, N.J. – Verizon said today that it is the official wireless partner of THE X FACTOR, which premiered last night and continues tonight from 8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT on FOX, and it has joined forces with THE X FACTOR as the presenting sponsor of The Xtra Factor App for smartphones and other mobile devices including tablets. The free App, available now, will give customers unprecedented access to this fall’s most-anticipated new TV show with exclusive content and features available only to Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon Wireless customers will also have the chance to vote for contestants from within the smartphone App during the voting window directly following the live performance shows of THE X FACTOR later this fall.