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Sprint may plan to mortgage its license proceeds but not the spectrum license

Posted March 16th, 2016 in spectrum, Sprint and tagged , by Alton Drew

Sprint, a mobile broadband provider, has been plodding through eight years of losses. It has been toiling under the weight of $34 billion of debt. To give itself relief, Softbank, the entity with majority control of the carrier, has come up with a plan that involves creating another subsidiary of Softbank and have that subsidiary lend Sprint the money to bail itself out. According to Bloomberg Businessweek:

“According to Sprint Chief Financial Officer Tarek Robbiati, the proposal is to create another subsidiary of Son’s Japanese corporation that will lend Sprint money. The new unit plans to accept the carrier’s wireless equipment and some of its rights to slices of the wireless spectrum as collateral. Sprint says that while it won’t give up control of those precious airwaves—worth more than $115 billion, according to Bloomberg Intelligence—it’s aiming for $3 billion to $5 billion this year from these loans.”

The way Bloomberg Businessweek reports the initiative the first impression one gets is that the actual spectrum licenses can be mortgaged. What can happen is that a security interest in the proceeds of a sale of a spectrum license can be formed. The United States Court of Appeals-Ninth Circuit in MLQ Investors v. Pacific Quadracasting, Inc.held that:

In other words, the FCC may prohibit security interests in licenses themselves because the creation of such an interest could result in foreclosure and transfer of the license without FCC approval.   Such approval is necessary to regulate the airwaves in the public interest.   No such public interest is implicated, however, by a security interest in the proceeds of licenses, which does not grant the creditor any power or control over the license or the segment of the broadcast spectrum it represents.

Sprint investors should be aware of this distinction.

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Today’s data markets require data that brings value

Today’s data markets require that there be valuable data to trade but the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t quite see it that way.  Last week the Commission voted to accept a report that concludes that 17% of the American population or approximately 55 million people, do not have access to advanced broadband.  The Commission’s determination is based on new speed standards based on the speeds that approximately 70% of broadband customers are purchasing today.

From my view of the world here in Atlanta I can’t say that the Commission has much of a case when it argues that there is no choice among competing broadband providers even when you take income into account.  Here in the West End where median income in the 30310 area code is approximately $24,606, we have seven wireline and wireless providers of internet access.  They are Comcast (100 Mbps to 1 Gbps); AT&T (10 Mbps to 25 Mbps); Verizon (10 Mbps to 25 Mbps); T-Mobile (10 Mbps to 25 Mbps); Platinum Equity (6 Mbps to 10 Mbps); Sprint Nextel (6 Mbps to 10 Mbps); and MetroPCS (768 kbps to 1.5 Mbps).

The 30331 area code has a median income of $36,349 and the same choices in internet access carriers, with the only difference being the decrease in speed provided by Platinum Equity (3Mbps to 6 Mbps).

Our more affluent neoghbors to the north in Buckhead enjoy median incomes of $65,642.  Sprint is not available as a service choice for the residents of Buckhead, but no worries.  Platinum Equity provides service speeds of 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps while Level 3 provides 1 Gbps speeds.

You can see these speeds yourself using a nifty broadband-by-zip code calculator provided by the National Broadband Plan Map.

Not to completely dis my neighborhood but the West End is not the epicenter of finance and industry.  While we have a couple grocery stores, a community and arts center, too many churches, a middle school, and a few banks, we are not generating the income that puts us on the list of high value data providers, not at an income of $24,606.  You find that action up in Buckhead.  There are enough banks, law firms, and high tech firms for you yto throw a cat at.  These are the sources of high value data.

Three of the Commission’s members would no doubt nake the argument that with higher speed broadband, the high value data economic activity I allude to would exist in the West End or even Camp Creek.  I would argue with them.  The SnapChats of the world are being bought and sold for billions while only having a staff no larger than the numerous fast food joints that pepper the West End.  These firms are not generating high value data that is made available for trade via data markets that consumers and producers access via broadband links.  The data comes from high income consumers who may not be necessarily employed in tech.

No. Raising speed standards out of sense of duty to equate everyone with everyone is not the approach our progressive friends on the Commission should be taken in order to promote broadband deployment.  Also, trying to preempt state law in order to encourage the deployment of municipal broadband is not the answer especially in neighborhoods like mine.  Half of us simply can’t afford broadband.

Links to the internet should grow organically with broadband providers meeting demand for their services when consumers signal they are ready to purchase them.  We will need to see a turnaround in economic development and incomes to see the broadband speed equality that progressives on the Commission desire.

 

http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/30/data-markets-the-emerging-data-economy/

 

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Losing the Internet global market for the broadband access trees

The New York Stock Exchange Tech-Media-Telecom Index fell 101.46 points or 1.35%, partly on news that the European economy was worse for wear.  Equity investors ran for the debt-income hills choosing to move their stash into government bonds.

I don’t think the fall in the tech, media, telecom sector had much to do with comments made today by panelists participating in a Federal Communications Commission forum on the law and economics of net neutrality.  The takeaway from that panel for most was that no matter what net neutrality rules the FCC comes up with, whether based on Title II, section 706, or some ungodly pairing of the two, there will be blood in the form of litigation.

The other takeaway in my opinion is how so far the FCC has completely ignored the opportunity to describe how regulation, especially under a Title II regime, is supposed to help maintain optimum performance of a globally competitive interconnection of 67,000 networks when a significant portion of the globe is experiencing an inept economic performance.

If economic performance stays this sluggish worldwide, information services companies will have to really emphasize to consumers the value of their content and information products if they are to stay afloat.  But when the FCC is seriously contemplating codifying a policy that would give equal treatment of a video of a dancing cat with life-saving online medical services, it is difficult to see capital and investment moving freely to activity that brings the most value.

Morningstar notes that the FCC’s tough stand on competition and net neutrality has deflated the value of wireless Internet access platform providers, casts doubt on pending acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, and lessens the chances of Sprint and T-Mobile walking hand-in-hand down the mergers and acquisitions aisle.  According to Morningstar, the inability to consolidate may make Sprint and T-Mobile’s ability to garner additional spectrum or eek out a profit all the more difficult.

If the FCC wants to maintain its economic regulation focus on the providers of broadband access platforms while positively impacting the end-to-end global nature of the Internet, it may want to ease up on the “consolidation is bad” mantra and either stick to a broadband policy based on section 706 or better yet abandon rulemaking on the Open Internet altogether.

 

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No response to Wheeler’s response on wireless

There was no appreciable response to Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s comments at the CTIA show in Las Vegas mentioning that the FCC may reconsider the distinction between fixed broadband and wireless broadband as it draws closer to issuing new rules on net neutrality or the Open Internet.

The goal of the Open Internet proceedings “is to establish rules of the road for Internet openness that will provide certainty in the market place and facilitate the continuation of the virtuous cycle of investment and innovation”, Mr. Wheeler said.

Consumers are increasingly relying on mobile broadband, noted the chairman, and acknowledged the wireless industry’s position that mobile broadband carriers face constraints that their fixed broadband cousins do not.

AT&T(T:NYSE); Sprint (S: NYSE); and Verizon (VZ: NYSE) saw their share values fall today but it wasn’t clear from media headlines whether the fall was in response to the possibility that fixed and mobile may be treated the same under net neutrality rules or his policy of challenging wireless broadband company mergers such as the attempted AT&T-T-Mobile combination or the more recent attempt by Sprint to acquire T-Mobile.

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The New York Times is wrong on Sprint, T-Mobile

Posted January 1st, 2014 in antitrust, Sprint, T-Mobile USA and tagged , , , by Alton Drew

The editorial board of The New York Times has come out swinging against Sprint‘s (NYSE:S) speculated combination with T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS).  SoftBank (OTC:SFTBY), a Japanese wireless provider, owns a controlling interest in Sprint.  Should an acquisition be approved by regulators, namely the Federal Communications Commission and the United States Department of Justice, the four largest national carriers would be reduced to the three largest national carriers and such a shrinkage, according to The Times would negatively impact consumers.  Here is the crux of The Times’ argument about the impact on consumers:

“As an independent company, for instance, T-Mobile has recently cut prices aggressively and simplified its cellphone plans. Its phone plans are often much cheaper than comparable packages offered by other cellphone companies. It no longer forces customers into two-year contracts; its subscribers can switch to another wireless firm whenever they like. And it slashed the high international roaming charges it levies on calls customers make when they are traveling abroad and eliminated roaming charges for text messages and Internet service.”

To me, that is not a valid argument to base a rejection of a combination.  T-Mobile’s decision to provide cheaper comparable packages resulted from its ability to identify a niche, an underserved market that could have been left out of the market for wireless broadband services.  It would be bad business judgment for SoftBank to ignore this market especially since T-Mobile’s corner on the underserved market is one of the linchpins of  the company’s success.  SoftBank would still have to compete with AT&T and Verizon and extinguishing an important part of T-Mobile’s business model would be like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The Times is wrong on this one.