AT&T Eyes Telefonica in Quest for Acquisition Options: Report

AT&T reportedly continues to search for acquisition options abroad. Telefonica is said to be on its list of possibilities.

AT&T continues to explore options to expand its empire beyond U.S. borders. Within the last two months, it has pursued several deals, including buying a portion of Telefonica, Spain's second-largest operator, Bloomberg reported July 21, citing three people familiar with the matter.

According to the report, AT&T approached Spanish authorities, looking to buy as much as 29.9 percent of Telefonica, but was told "such a proposal wouldn't be welcome."

Bloomberg added that A&T has also considered scenarios involving purchasing portions of 02, Telefonica's unit in the United Kingdom, or "Latin American businesses."

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that AT&T, needing to "escape constraints on growth at home" was looking for a European carrier to buy. It suggested that the U.K.'s Everything Everywhere or Royal KPN, in the Netherlands, could be options.

Reuters reported at the time that Telefonica was also an option, as it had it offered a portion of its German subsidiary, Telefonica Deutschland, for sale, in an effort to reduce debt.

AT&T spent most of 2011 trying to purchase T-Mobile, the nation's fourth-largest carrier. That move was ultimately blocked by federal regulators. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expressed concerns over the deal, fearing the joint company would hurt competition and result in higher prices for consumers, and the Department of Justice went as far as to sue AT&T to stop the merger.

In December, after more than nine months of pushing for the deal, AT&T called off the effort.

Since then, it has tried to grow in a more piecemeal manner.

This past January, AT&T purchased the Alltel brand from Atlantic Tele-Network for $780 million. That deal included approximately 585,000 subscribers and spectrum in the 700, 850 and 1,900MHz bands.

It has also gone about purchasing Wireless Communications Service (WCS) spectrum, which was previously thought unfit for wireless broadband use. But it figured out a way to make it work, and in December 2012 the FCC approved the plan, saying it wasn't likely to result in harm to the public or competitive interests.

Still, since its failed plan to buy T-Mobile, T-Mobile has merged with MetroPCS, Sprint is well on its way to completing a deal with Japanese carrier Softbank and even Verizon Wireless is said to be considering an acquisition of Canadian prepaid carrier Wind Mobile.

The Bloomberg report added that AT&T holds a 9 percent share of America Movil, which is owned by the billionaire Carlos Slim. America Movil competes with Telefonica in several Latin American countries, and AT&T wouldn't proceed with such a deal without his consent.

"AT&T is eager to protect its close relationship with Carlos Slim and would seek his input on any significant deal with Telefonica," said the Bloomberg report. It added that Telefonica said it hasn't been approached by AT&T.