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 for Verizon Wireless service. They also said that they’ll launch a joint venture to develop technology that integrates wireline and wireless services. And Dish? It will become “the only incumbent service provider (other than the telcos) that can do wireless video delivery to mobile CE devices on its own infrastructure,” says Brean Murray Carret analyst Todd Mitchell.
Investors seem to like the news, which follows decisions by the Justice Department and the FCC to try and block AT&T’s attempt to buy T-Mobile. In early trading, Comcast is +3%, Time Warner Cable is +2.3%, and Verizon is +0.3%. Dish is +5.3%.