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Why Intelsat Stock Fell 35% in March

Steve Symington, The Motley Fool

What happened

Shares of Intelsat (NYSE: I) declined 35% in March, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, amid concerns over government plans that could significantly hamper the company's ability to monetize its wireless spectrum assets.

To be sure, Intelsat lost nearly a quarter of its value between March 4 and March 5, 2019, alone, after Politico highlighted a proposal for the government to potentially nationalize so-called 5G networks. What's more, separate reports from TheFly.com around the same time indicated that several U.S. Congress members were mulling over whether to prevent the FCC from allowing Intelsat and other foreign satellite companies to sell their access to 200 megahertz of C-band spectrum to wireless carriers. 

View of Earth from above with many wirelessly connected points of light

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

So what

Considering that spectrum sale could bring in much as $40 billion for the sellers -- its piece of which Intelsat would use to pay down debt -- it's hardly surprising the threat of U.S. government intervention might send investors scuttling for the exits.

Of course, that's not to say the sale won't happen. But even then, it could be a while. Intelsat subsequently fell another 10% on March 21, 2019, after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai indicated the agency was taking its time to make a decision on moving the auction forward.

"[I]t's important for us to make the right decision," Pai added, "not the right now decision."

Now what

To that end, Intelsat shares are up around 8% today as of this writing after FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly offered an encouraging, if tempered, bit of optimism that the auction will happen eventually.

"Going forward, I will continue to pressure the FCC to get these frequencies into the hands of wireless providers as quickly as possible," O'Rielly stated. "But unfortunately, I have been informed that it may take until next year at the earliest to conduct an auction."

O'Rielly also added that, in the meantime, the 3.5 GHz spectrum should be available to wireless providers "shortly" under the general (unlicensed) access tier.

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Steve Symington has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.