Well, it's election day and apparently the FCC commissioners liked voting so much they took votes on just about everything. Amazingly, it looks like they even made some good decisions. The big one, of course, and the one that will get the most press, is the unanimous vote to free up television "white space" spectrum. While the NAB made a last ditch effort to stop this, the FCC made the right call here. This spectrum can be put to much better use, which can have a huge impact on increasing innovation and wireless technologies. This is a big win. The FCC also approved Sprint and Clearwire's deal to set up a joint venture for their WiMax operations, as well as allowing Verizon to buy Alltel. Both of those deals make sense as well, so it's good to see them approved.
Other than that, the FCC said that it's going to start looking into the pricing policies of cable companies... and Verizon. Who's missing? FCC boss Kevin Martin's best friends over at AT&T. To be honest, while it's quite likely that the cable companies and the telcos (yes, including AT&T) are abusing their oligopoly position, the answer shouldn't be having the FCC act as a watchdog over pricing policies, but for a better system to be set up that encourages real competition. In the meantime, though, can someone explain why AT&T was left out of the bunch?
After being rumored for years, Verizon Wireless finally bought Alltel earlier this month. However, Alltel's CEO has now admitted that the company wasn't just looking to be acquired these past few years. It had, itself, aggressively looked into buying Sprint, T-Mobile or even AT&T Wireless at times. In fact, it tried to buy Sprint three separate times. The other two certainly seem like longshots. Deutsche Telekom appears to have no real interest in getting rid of T-Mobile, and depending on which version of AT&T Wireless you're talking about, it would have been difficult to convince the various parent companies involved that a sale to Alltel made sense. And that, of course, ignores the fact that T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless were from the GSM camp, rather than the CDMA camp. Still, it is interesting to see that the smaller Alltel was looking at buying its way up the food chain.
It's only been rumored for about four years, but it looks like Verizon Wireless is finally buying Alltel. It's yet another merger in the space, with this one letting Verizon leap over AT&T to declare itself the largest national carrier. Considering the space, I'm sure there will soon be a flurry of "who's next?" articles showing up -- though most of the big obvious mergers are now out of the way. One assumes this should also mean the end of the ridiculous lawsuit Verizon Wireless had filed against Alltel for misleading advertising.
Having just run into its own problems with false advertising, Verizon Wireless is now suing competitor Alltel, claiming false advertising in its commercials. The ads, such as the one here, make fun of Verizon Wireless and other mobile operators for forcing people to extend their contracts whenever they make changes, and claim that one of Alltel's advantage is the lack of such requirements.
Verizon Wireless doesn't just claim that this is wrong, its spokesperson states: "Whatever merit this comparison may have to other carriers, in the case of Verizon Wireless, the supposed 'advantage' is pure fiction." "Pure fiction" is a pretty strong claim, and it would be a lot stronger if it hadn't been absolutely true until just a couple months ago. Verizon Wireless did, in fact, force people to extend contracts, and only stopped the practice back in October when Sprint got sued over doing the same thing. And, of course, the Alltel ads began running well before Verizon was pressured into making this change. So, while it's technically accurate that these ads are false advertising now, it seems a bit excessive to describe them as "pure fiction," when they were absolutely true until just a few months ago.
It's easy to forget that just because a buyout has been announced, there's no guarantee that it will actually go through. Pending private equity deals are particularly vulnerable at the moment, because they're all debt financed. One good way to get a sense of whether the market is expecting a given to go through is to look at the current market price of a stock compared to the buyout price. The wider the gap, the less likely it'll actually happen. These gaps are getting pretty wide on a number of deals, including a few discussed here. The purchase of Clear Channel was announced last November, but today the stock trades at 37% below the offering price. Alltel is in a similar boat, trading 22% below the buyout price, which was just announced in May. It's still possible, of course, that both of these deals will get done. But if current conditions persist, we may see them hang around in their current form for a bit longer.