In a second major acquisition this week, AT&T announced it will buy Centennial Communications for $944 million. Centennial provides GSM wireless services to 1.1 million subscribers in primarily rural markets throughout the Midwest and Southeast U.S. It also has some wireline operations in some Caribbean markets. Assuming the deal is approved, Centennial’s subscriber base will push AT&T’s total subscriber count to just shy of 75 million. Even with the acquisition, AT&T will still lose its top spot to Verizon when the Verizon – Alltel deal closes. A combined Verizon – Alltel will have 83 million+ subscribers.
This acquisition is illustrative of the continuing interest in rural wireless carriers. Centennial joins Alltel, Dobson Cellular, and Rural Cellular as recent “big” rural carrier prizes for both Verizon Wireless and AT&T. Rural carrier acquisitions represent the easiest way for their larger national brethren to grow subscriber counts and fuel the growth that national wireless companies so desire. An extra incentive to rural carrier acquisition is the reduction in roaming expenses it brings to its suitors. It appears as if rural wireless carriers are increasingly becoming an endangered species. Who’s next?