UPDATE: Charter Rebuffs Sprint Overtures
Sprint Corp., the wireless company that has been the go-to provider for the cable industry for decades, has made a proposal to Charter Communications, according to the Wall Street Journal, that would combined the two telecom giants in a separate publicly traded entity controlled by the wireless provider's parent company, Japanese mobile service provider SoftBank.
According to the Journal, no formal offer has been made yet and there is no guarantee that Charter would accept the deal. But the proposal comes just as the exclusive period of negotiations between Sprint, Comcast and Charter over a possible wireless partnership. The Journal had earlier reported that Sprint, Comcast and Charter were talking about forming a possible Mobile Virtual Network Operator partnership, similar to one the two cable companies have with the country's largest wireless service provider, Verizon. The paper said while an MVNO could still happen, it has taken a back seat to the merger talks.
Charter said in a statement it was not interested in a Sprint hookup: “We understand why a deal is attractive for SoftBank, but Charter has no interest in acquiring Sprint. We have a very good MVNO relationship with Verizon and intend to launch wireless services to cable customers next year.”
Wireless has been an elusive target for the cable industry for decades. From the PCS (short for Personal Communications Services) partnerships with Sprint in the 1990s, to joint ventures in the 2000s with Sprint again that were supposed to usher in the age of mobile video, cable has spent years and billions of dollars to pair its wireline network with wireless. It came close in 2005 with the Pivot joint venture with Sprint that was abandoned in 2008. Later that year, it invested in WiMax pioneer Clearwire, but ended up selling its interests to Sprint in 2012, some at substantial discounts.
Whether or not the fourth time will be the charm is anyone's guess. Charter inherited the Verizon MVNO deal through its purchase of Time Warner Cable in 2015. The company has said it will activate a wireless service next year.
One of Charter's largest shareholders, Liberty Media chairman John Malone, has according to sources been a big booster of owning a wireless network, although allowing Sprint's parent company to control the combined entity seems a bit out of character for the control-hungry cable legend.
Sprint had been in talks abot a merger with No. 3 wireless company T-Mobile, and according to the Journal, that deal could go through, even if a Charter deal is consummated.