Sealaska joins wireless license bid

Posted: Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Three Alaska Native regional corporations are teaming up with AT&T Wireless and two other companies to bid on federal wireless telephone licenses.

Sealaska Corp., Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Doyon Ltd. are part of a consortium that will bid on more than 422 licenses covering 195 markets. The Federal Communications Commission license auction started a week ago and is expected to continue well into next month, said Ross Soboleff, Sealaska spokesman.

Sealaska, one of 13 regional Native corporations formed after the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was signed in 1971, wouldn't divulge the percentage or the amount of money it's investing in the consortium due to confidentiality agreements, Soboleff said. He would only say "it's a significant investment."

But he did say the amount of the investment was a moving target, depending on the price and how many licenses are bought at the federal auction. Soboleff said Sealaska has been working on the deal at least three months.

Besides the three Native companies, AT&T Wireless, Madison Dearborn Partners and Toronto Dearborn Partners are also investors in the consortium, named Alaska Native Wireless. ANW will be one of 87 companies bidding for the licenses.

The hands-on bidding for the licenses will be done by Longmont, Colo.,-based Council Tree Communications, Soboleff said. Council Tree is run by Steve Hillard, the former chief operating officer of Cook Inlet Communications Inc.

The Alaska Native corporations hope to tap into the growing cellular and wireless communications market much like Cook Inlet Region Inc. has.

CIRI, the regional Native corporation for the Anchorage area, scored a "home run" with its investment in VoiceStream Wireless Corp., said Carl Marrs, president.

The company pumped $125 million into four companies and swapped the interest in those for VoiceStream Wireless Corp. stock. The conversion made the investment worth $860 million.

On Friday, CIRI announced a tax-free $500-per-share dividend, or $50,000 to shareholders with the typical 100 shares. The Dec. 28 payout to its roughly 7,000 shareholders cuts $314 million off that investment.

"That was an excellent investment," Soboleff said.

This is the first venture capital foray into the "new economy" of technology and information companies for Sealaska, Soboleff said. The company's history has been in the natural resource market.

The company is drifting away from traditional ownership of companies and concentrating on investing money into already existing companies, he said.

"That depends on finding good partners who can do that for you," Soboleff said.

Sealaska owns three companies, two of which did poorly last year.

Between the three Native regional corporations, the investment has the potential to impact around 38,000 shareholders, including Sealaska's 16,000.

Mike Hinman can be reached at mhinman@juneauempire.com.



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