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Based on developments in 2012 and continuing this year, it is clear that the major carriers will have the necessary spectrum to offer more robust wireless broadband services for years to come.  In addition to spectrum acquisitions, the FCC adopted decisions facilitating mobile broadband operations on spectrum originally allocated to the Mobile Satellite Service (“MSS”) and, in other cases, initially authorized for narrowband voice communications or largely undeveloped because of adjacent channel interference concerns.

The willingness of the carriers to expend billions of dollars for spectrum and FCC decisions “repurposing spectrum” constitute a significant “doubling-down” on the future of wireless broadband.  The downside is that an essential resource for prospective competitors is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the major wireless carriers.

Major Wireless Carriers Move Aggressively to Enhance Broadband Spectrum Holdings.   As AT&T was acknowledging that DoJ and the FCC would not allow it to acquire T -Mobile at the end of 2011, spectrum deal-making began in earnest.

  • Verizon Wireless announced its agreement with SpectrumCo and Cox Communications to acquire the cable companies’ substantial AWS spectrum holdings.  Even though final approval was not granted until August, this transaction triggered a series of significant spectrum deals.
  • On the heels of Verizon Wireless/SpectrumCo/Cox, AT&T initiated a series of transactions to acquire 700 MHz A and B Block licenses and, later in the year, entered into transactions to acquire multiple Wireless Communications Service (WCS) licenses in the 2.3 GHz band.
  • T-Mobile and MetroPCS sought FCC approval to their proposed transaction that will consolidate operations, customers and spectrum holdings and enable deployment of “a network capable of supporting at least 20 x 20 MHz LTE deployments in many areas.”
  • Relying on an anticipated cash infusion resulting from Softbank’s proposal to acquire control of Sprint, the nation’s 3rd largest wireless carrier offered to acquire all of Clearwire’s equity interests that it did not already possess in order to control Clearwire’s spectrum at 2.5 GHz.  Dish Network Corporation (“DISH”) countered with its own offer for the Clearwire’s stock and asked the FCC to “stop the clock” on the FCC’s consideration of the Softbank/Sprint/Clearwire transactions.

The pending transactions are subject to the FCC’s current “case-by-case analysis” for assessing spectrum holdings in transactions and auctions.  While the FCC has initiated a proceeding reassessing current policies for determining criteria for limiting spectrum holdings, this proceeding will not be resolved until the 2nd Quarter of 2013, at the earliest.  In view of the closed and pending transactions noted above, the impact of new spectrum holding policies likely will be limited to future spectrum auctions.Continue Reading Impacts of Broadband Spectrum Concentration on Enterprise Customers In 2013 and Beyond

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Over the weekend, the boards of both Sprint and Softbank agreed to terms under which the Japanese wireless carrier would acquire a 70% equity interest in Sprint, providing substantial cash infusion into Sprint.  In light Deutsche Telekom’s controlling interest in T-Mobile and Vodafone’s longstanding ownership interest in Verizon Wireless and that Sprint is often regarded

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Picture 16.pngThis is the first of three entries analyzing telecommunications services agreements.  This entry—Overview—highlights the structure and basic components of telecommunications services agreements.  The second entry—Revenue Assurance—will focus on the carriers’ interest of locking-in projected revenues. The third entry—Risk Mitigation—will take a closer look at the carriers’views on damages, termination rights and customer indemnities.


Wireline and Wireless services agreements include general terms and conditions, typically set out in a “Master Agreement.” Negotiated service-specific rates or, for Wireless services, plans and pooling arrangements are set out in attachments or schedules.  Wireless and Wireline services are generally procured separately, having  separate agreements, although one carrier opts for a single master agreement covering both service categories.  The benefits of consolidation are limited, in our view, if the customer’s total spend does not result in improved overall pricing or other tangible benefits. 

Wireline Agreements.  Customers and carriers typically negotiate an overall minimum revenue commitment that may be an annual or term commitment.  Customer expenditures for most services typically “contribute” to satisfying the minimum commitment with the possible exception of local exchange services which, in many cases, are still subject to tariffs.  Tariffs take precedence over contracts.  Whether local services “contribute” to the overall commitment is a point of negotiation.  A more recent twist is the offer of a major credit based on an actual expenditures over a given period, typically a year.

In addition to domestic services, Wireline agreements may include international and “rest of world” services.  The latter denotes services that do not originate or terminate in the United States.  International services originate or terminate in the United States.  The services in these agreements include dedicated internet access services, voice and data services, such as MPLS, high capacity access services and managed services—carrier monitoring of customer premises equipment—typically routers and sometimes PBXs—enabling more rapid identification of service/equipment troubles and resolution Firewall and other security services are offered, as well. 

Wireless Agreements.  Wireless agreements tend to be domestic-focused with options for business customers whose employees travel internationally.  Various volume-based incentives and disincentives are common in these agreements.  The carriers continue to push for “preferred provider” status. 

Minimum line commitments exist to recover the cost of discounted handsets.  As a practical matter, each carrier offers its own portfolio of handsets, tablets and wireless cards, in part, to ensure these devices have “backward compatibility” over its respective spectrum bands.  Thus, carrier assertions that customers must look exclusively to handset manufacturers in connection with equipment issues strain credibility.  The devices generally are not portable to other carriers’ networks.  Adverse customer impacts of IP litigation among handset technology owners is an emerging issue.

Another feature of Wireless deals is the availability of corporate liable and individual liable service arrangements.  Under the latter, individual employees enter into individual agreements with the carriers, assuming responsibility for paying for their own services and handsets, but at the discounted rates negotiated in the enterprise’s agreement with the carrier.  Individually liable arrangements are part of the growing IT management challenges triggered by employees using their own remote devices to access corporate networks and data resources, often referred to as the Bring Your Own Device (“BYOD”) trend. Continue Reading Ins and Outs of Telecommunications Services Agreements: Part 1-Overview

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When carriers routinely reject risk-balancing contract provisions based on “the business case,” deliver standard agreements that effectively eliminate the possibility of damages no matter how bad their services in a given instance, or demand iron-clad “preferred provider” clauses, the only conclusion is that the carriers do not perceive significant competition. While aggressive carrier positions are

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A fundamental expectation of clients in any commercial transaction is that counsel understand the business deal.  When procuring Wireline voice and data communications services,  major businesses, institutions and state governments make five fundamental business decisions.  The first four apply to Wireless services procurements.
              1. Service
              2. Choice of Carriers
              3. Pricing
              4. Minimum Purchase Commitments
              5. Wireline Service for Enterprise Data Communications

1.       Services

The major domestic Wireline carriers are AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Qwest/CenturyTel .  The core services these carriers offer to enterprise customers include long distance, VoIP, audio conferencing and various data services—high-speed Internet access, frame relay, private line (TDM and Ethernet), and Multi-Protocol Label Switching (“MPLS”) services.   As a rule, local exchange service remains regulated and is not included in these deals.  These carriers offer related services, such as network (router) management , data center (collocation) and network security services, but are not yet substantial providers of cloud computing or content delivery services.   Customer premises equipment  (routers and switches) typically are not bundled with these services.

All of these carriers offer international services ( i.e., services between the US and other countries).   Multinational enterprises also are interested in Rest-of- World (“ROW”) services (i.e., services between and sometimes within foreign countries).  Several domestic carriers and foreign carriers such as Telefonica and BT offer ROW services.

The Wireless voice and data services available to enterprise customers are largely the same as those offered to consumers, although pricing options are different.  Handsets are bundled with Wireless services.  The principal domestic providers are AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile.  Available handset options, in-country coverage, Wireless data options  and the extent to which domestic carriers coordinate or manage wireless services in other countries are among the critical decision points.  Wireless service offerings tend to be country-centric.

2.         Choice of Carriers

Wireline and Wireless services are highly commoditized offerings with high  market entry barriers.  Enterprise customers typically utilize RFPs and consultants specializing in procuring these services.   Properly crafted RFPs include substantial information regarding enterprise traffic and bandwidth requirements and service preferences.  As discussed below,  the real-world prices paid by enterprise customers are not publicly available.

Enterprise customers have a strong interest in limiting the number of Wireline and Wireless carriers, respectively, from which they obtain service, principally to clarify responsibility for service quality, provisioning and trouble resolution, maximize bargaining leverage, and develop a mutually beneficial business relationship.  Typically, Wireline and Wireless carrier selection decisions are made independent of each other.Continue Reading Understanding the Business Deal in Wireless and Wireline Services Agreements