By all appearances, AT&T's deal to purchase the 700MHz spectrum owned by Qualcomm (for its defunct MediaFLO service) is going to close any day now — and Verizon is striking back, forging a deal with SpectrumCo to buy out its 122 licenses in the AWS band. SpectrumCo is the joint venture of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House that was formed to oversee a portfolio of wireless spectrum to be used collectively by the landline companies — but clearly, their business model has stumbled, and none has managed to launch a wildly-successful wireless service. You might recall that Cox recently announced its exit from wireless altogether, in fact; it had been previously been a member of SpectrumCo as well. Comcast cashes out $2.3 billion in this deal; TWC, $1.1 billion, and Bright House gets $189 million.
The deal is interesting on many levels. First off, it signals that Verizon is projecting a spectrum crunch of its own at some point in the future, and it's looking to fight that off proactively; it also means that Verizon will no longer be offering a 700MHz-only LTE footprint. Instead, it'll be going AT&T's route with a 700MHz / AWS hybrid, which might actually be good news for hardware interoperability in the long term. And it's also important to note that this doesn't mean the cable companies will be locked out of wireless altogether — the deal will allow all three to sell Verizon's service directly and to offer service using wholesale Verizon spectrum if they wish. They're also forming an "innovation technology joint venture for the development of technology to better integrate wireline and wireless products and services," which could produce some interesting results in an industry that doesn't really have a reputation for moving quickly.
As SpectrumCo's press release notes, this deal is subject to FCC approval. Assuming all the loose ends get tied up on AT&T-Qualcomm, that would presumably make this package an easier sell.