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AT&T Ditches Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands to Raise Money to Cut Debt, Buy Back Its Own Stock

AT&T will sell its operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to John Malone’s Liberty Latin America, Ltd., setting up a virtual market monopoly for Liberty, which already owns cable operator Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico.

Liberty Latin America has agreed to pay $1.95 billion in cash to acquire 1.1 million AT&T cellular, landline, and internet customers in both U.S. territories.

AT&T intends to use the proceeds of the sale to reduce debt and allow the company to lay the foundation to buy back more of its own shares, pleasing investors. AT&T had originally sought up to $3 billion for the Caribbean networks, partly acquired from a 2009 acquisition of Centennial Communications, which cost AT&T less than $1 billion.

Analysts say the low selling price shows AT&T is feeling pressure from activist investor Elliott Management, which has been pushing AT&T to divest non-core assets. The selling price was also impacted by the distressed state of AT&T’s infrastructure and customer base, impacted by Hurricane Maria in 2017, which damaged both the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and displaced hundreds of thousands of residents.

Liberty already has a major presence in Puerto Rico through its cable system — Puerto Rico’s largest pay television and broadband provider. Cable tycoon John Malone will effectively control Puerto Rico’s largest wireless phone and cable company. Claro, Puerto Rico’s landline provider, will be its chief competitor.

The two companies said they expect the deal to close within six to nine months.

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