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A cell tower disguised as a bell tower.
A cell tower disguised as a bell tower.
(CARRIE PRATT/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

U.S. telcos are selling their towers. Will Canada’s Big 3 follow suit?

There’s a big strategic divide in the wireless industry that happens to run right along the border.

In the U.S., cellular carriers can’t sell their towers fast enough to reap ever rising prices. The latest to hit the market is AT&T Inc., which is said by Bloomberg to be seeking $5-billion for its tower portfolio. The buyer, if one bites, is likely to be one of a handful of companies that invest in towers, becoming landlords to all cell providers. In such transactions, AT&T and other carriers get cash up front, and lease space on the towers. They are willing to take the risk of losing control of the prime tower real estate – something that surely can be mitigated contractually. There are plenty of precedents in other industries. Canadian banks, for example, are for the most part long gone from the business of owning office towers. They sold to real estate companies, and lease the space back.