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In what may sound like a Faustian bargain, one facet of the big wireless-spectrum deal Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) signed on Friday with SpectrumCo joint venturers Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) , Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC ) , and Bright House Networks gives those cable companies the right to resell Verizon's mobile services forever. Yes, forever.
Or, as more devilishly put by Comcast cable President Neil Smit, those cable companies could be Verizon Wireless resellers into "perpetuity."
That is a long time, and it could mean that never, as in never again, could Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR ) hope to get another wireless deal with Comcast or Time Warner once their current arrangements wind down in six months. Clearwire's wholesale networking partner Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) will see its relationships with those cable companies go away.
Comcast's and Time Warner Cable's calculation here is significant, as together they own 14% of Clearwire. Either they are willing to see that investment go south, or they have faith in the new arrangement that Clearwire and Sprint worked out late last week. Clearwire had threatened to self-immolate by not paying its $237 million interest payment.
Sprint's suicide squeeze play
That new deal was hammered out after Clearwire was talked off the ledge by Sprint, which offered it an extension of the 4G WiMAX network partnership that will go past 2012. As part of the $1.6 billion total package with Clearwire, Sprint announced that it will buy up to $347 million worth of Clearwire's equity in a new offering that will total between $400 million and $700 million.
Yesterday, Clearwire also announced that it is now offering $300 million of new equity, of which Sprint will buy an unrevealed amount. Sprint currently owns a 54% share of Clearwire but has only a 49.6% voting interest.
Changing telecom landscape
New telecom wheelings and dealings have been surfacing almost as quickly as wireless carriers have been introducing new smartphones. But this latest deal between Verizon and the SpectrumCo cable companies has the potential to be the most influential.
Up to now, that crown had been worn by AT&T's (NYSE: T ) proposed merger with T-Mobile. That deal doesn't have the onus of eternity hanging over it, as does Verizon's. What it does have, however, is a purported $4 billion failure-to-complete fee attached, one that looks more and more likely that AT&T may have to pay.
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