U.S. Cellular agrees to sell non-core towers for $159M

U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) said it struck a deal to sell 595 towers to private tower company Vertical Bridge Holdings for around $159 million. The carrier has been trying for months to sell what it had termed "non-strategic" towers in areas outside of its core markets.

"We are very pleased to announce this transaction," U.S. Cellular CEO Ken Meyers said in a statement. "We will use the proceeds from the sale of these non-strategic assets to invest in other long-term investments that position U.S. Cellular for future growth opportunities." 

U.S. Cellular had been looking for a buyer for its towers in its divested markets since at least September. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2015.

In a deal that closed in May 2013, U.S. Cellular offloaded its Chicago, St. Louis, central Illinois and three other Midwest markets to Sprint (NYSE:S). The deal included transfers of PCS spectrum and customers but not towers.

Vertical Bridge is a privately owned real estate investment trust focused on owning U.S. towers. The company owns, operates and manages towers, rooftops, and site locations across the country. Vertical Bridge was founded in 2014 by Digital Bridge Holdings, as well as key executives from Global Tower Partners. GTP sold its U.S. tower assets to American Tower in September 2013 for $4.8 billion.

In other U.S. Cellular news, the carrier has agreed to swap PCS spectrum with AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) in certain parts of the country--the two are seeking FCC approval of the deal. According to a filing with the FCC, the swap involves spectrum in 122 counties across 39 Cellular Market Areas. AT&T would get PCS spectrum in 104 counties in 32 CMAs, while U.S. Cellular would net PCS airwaves in 18 counties in seven CMAs. AT&T expects to hold 76 to 185 MHz in the areas covered by the deal after the transaction, and U.S. Cellular expects to hold 34 to 91 MHz.

AT&T said the spectrum will allow it to increase capacity and launch new services, while U.S. Cellular claims the deal would let it "carry out its current business and operational plans while divesting spectrum that is not strategic to its long term success."

For more:
- see this release
- see this FCC filing (PDF)
- see this PhoneScoop article

Related Articles:
U.S. Cellular to launch small LTE roaming deal soon, is negotiating larger one
U.S. Cellular launches M2M pricing and solutions, plans tower sale
U.S. Cellular aims to strike LTE roaming deal by year-end
U.S. Cellular loses 80K subs in Q1, says it is moving beyond billing system errors
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