Will AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) finally make an offer for Dish Network Corp. (NASDAQ: DISH) now that the merger with the T-Mobile USA unit of Deutsche Telekom AG (OTC: DTEGY) has fallen off the table? There has been talk of such a deal for a long time, but it’s been all talk and no action. That could change now that AT&T is in serious need of new wireless spectrum to handle the growing volume of data traffic on its network.
Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone Group plc (NASDAQ: VOD), did not just sit on its hands while AT&T tried to push through the T-Mobile deal. The company paid $3.6 billion for unused spectrum owned by SpectrumCo, a consortium of Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), and Bright House Networks.
Other potential AT&T acquisitions include MetroPCS Communications Inc. (NYSE: PCS), Leap Wireless International Inc. (NASDAQ: LEAP), and even Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S). But none would be as good as a deal for Dish.
AT&T’s main problem is that it would have to pay a premium price for Dish — perhaps as much as $50/share, or about 70% above today’s share price. That would value Dish at around $22 billion, a steep price given that AT&T just paid out $4 billion to T-Mobile in break-up fees. Even Ma Bell can’t afford to pay that kind of money too often for nothing in return, and it’s a sure bet that Dish would want a substantial break-up fee as part of any deal.
A report at Bloomberg News notes that Verizon Wireless owns 56 percent more 4G spectrum than AT&T in the top 10 markets and 46 percent more in the top 100. Verizon Wireless also claims 107.7 million subscribers compared with AT&T’s 100.7 million. Had AT&T been able to acquire T-Mobile, it would have increased its spectrum by 62%, leveling the playing field.
Dish recently acquired wireless spectrum from two bankrupt satellite television companies for about $2.8 billion in a deal that is still awaiting FCC approval. Verizon’s deal with SpectrumCo also needs regulatory approval, and so far there is no indication that either approval is in trouble.
But what does AT&T want with a satellite TV business? Of course it could hive it off once the deal is done, but it might make more sense to go after MetroPCS or Leap, both of which are simply wireless carriers. Or AT&T might be able to get Dish to sell just the spectrum. That would not be the best deal for Dish shareholders, but the company’s management would certainly be able to retire following such a transaction.
Dish shares are trading up more than 2% today at $29.34 in a 52-week range of $20.85-$32.56. Shares of AT&T are up almost 1% at $30.30 in a 52-week range of $27.20-$31.94.
One issue to consider… Dish would have every right in the world to demand another massive deal break-up fee in case the telecom giant could not convince regulators that this is good for consumers.