US mobile giant Verizon Wireless has acquired selected assets belonging to bankrupt regional operator Stelera Wireless for USD32.2 million, The Oklahoman reports. Bidding started at USD19 million for 18 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licences covering Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Texas, with Verizon and AT&T submitting 69 competing bids over the course of the two-hour auction. The newspaper notes that, during one particularly frenzied 28-minute segment, AT&T and Verizon bid against each other 52 times at USD200,000 increments. ‘Nobody envisioned the numbers getting this high’, commented Oklahoma City attorney Clay Christensen, who represented the debtor Stelera and also served as auctioneer.
Oklahoma City-based Stelera, which never held a licence for its local market, was founded in 2006 by former Dobson Communications president Ed Evans. The company leased water towers in small communities instead of rolling out cell towers, and claimed that it only took 125 customers per cell site to be cash flow break-even. However, progress was sluggish, and Stelera filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July this year, reporting USD30 million debts against USD18 million in assets. The first figure includes USD24 million of a USD35 million loan awarded by the government as part of a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) stimulus programme. The company had about 7,000 customers when it ceased operations in May.