Verizon widens lead over T-Mobile with Bluegrass acquisition

The logo of Verizon Wireless. (Graphic: The Desk)

Verizon has widened its lead over T-Mobile in terms of the total number of wireless customers served thanks to a recent acquisition of a small phone company in Kentucky.

This week, Verizon executives announced a deal to acquire Bluegrass Cellular, a rural wireless phone provider in Kentucky that has around 210,000 subscribers across 34 counties.

The deal is still subject to regulatory approval, though officials familiar with the acquisition believe it will be green-lit by the Federal Communications Commission and other federal regulators.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Verizon and Bluegrass have enjoyed a business partnership for several years: In 2010, Bluegrass built a 4G LTE network in rural Kentucky using wireless spectrum allocated to Verizon through a special partnership known as the Verizon Wireless LTE in Rural America program.

Phones compatible with Bluegrass Cellular operate on the legacy CDMA network for traditional 2G and 3G wireless service — the same used by Verizon — and the company offers both 4G LTE and 5G broadband wireless service.

“We are excited to acquire certain assets of Bluegrass Cellular and expand our footprint in Kentucky,” Ronan Dunne, the group chief executive for Verizon, said in a statement to reporters on Monday. “We look forward to welcoming Bluegrass customers and employees into the Verizon family and providing them with reliable wireless service alongside a best-in-class customer experience.”

Verizon’s acquisition of Bluegrass is the second big purchase for the company in less than a month. In September, Verizon said it was purchasing prepaid mobile virtual network operator Tracfone Wireless and its subsidiary businesses for $6 billion. The deal, which is also still subject to regulatory approval, is expected to bring 21 million wireless subscribers into Verizon when it closes.

That deal helped Verizon leapfrog rival T-Mobile in overall consumer subscribers to become the biggest provider of wireless phone service in the United States. T-Mobile enjoyed that status briefly after it completed a merger with Sprint in August.

AT&T is the biggest provider of wireless phone service overall with nearly 200 million consumer, business and government customers.