AT&T Cell Tower Leases in 2016

What You Should Know About AT&T Cell Site Leases

There are three main reasons that landowners, venue owners and local governments consult with us regarding AT&T TowerLeases:

1. New AT&T Cell Tower Lease Proposals

AT&T representatives or site acquisition agents may have contacted you to acquire a wireless tower lease on your property. In the past 5 years, this company has added approximately 10,000 cell sites- of which 20-30% are new AT&T wireless towers. The remainder are rooftop installations or collocations. In the next 5 years, we anticipate that AT&T will be adding 6,500 or so new macrocells of which 2,000 or so will be new cell towers:

If you have received an AT&T cell tower land lease proposal for a new location, here is how we can help.

  1. Educate you regarding the real world effects of entering into a Landlord/ Tenant lease with AT&T;
  2. Determine appropriate rent, escalation and lease duration terms; and/ or
  3. Get tips on favorably negotiating the terms of the proposed Lease Agreement prior to signing.

2. AT&T Lease Modification Requests

If you are already party to an AT&T cell tower land lease, then you have almost certainly been contacted by AT&T in recent years with requests for you to “Consent” to the modification of equipment on the tower or on your rooftop or other structures. Currently AT&T has approximately 67,000 cell sites across the US and on an average basis, they are making modifications to 20,000 of them each year. AT&T’s reps will contact you with a request for consent to make modifications. They frequently represent that they are authorized under the lease to make these modifications even in cases where the lease clearly provides that they don’t have that right. We assist our clients with:

  1. Understanding AT&T’s reasons for requesting the change;
  2. Reviewing the proposed drawings to understand what equipment is being changed by AT&T and whether it is outside the scope of the lease
  3. Determining what fees or rent (if any) should be charged to AT&T;
  4. Evaluating whether or not changes to the language and terms of the Lease are in your favor; and/ or
  5. Negotiating the AT&T wireless lease in a way that protects and supports your interests.

3. AT&T Wireless Tower Lease Extension Requests

With 67,000 towers and sites in existence and with AT&T starting building towers in the early 1990s, a number of existing AT&T cell site leases are coming up for expiration over the next 5-10 years. Both AT&T and Crown Castle (who acquired AT&T towers both from Bell South and AT&T previously) are contacting landowners to extend their leases. Crown Castle is also offering to purchase AT&T tower leases.

If you have received an AT&T lease proposal for the extension of a cell phone tower lease, here is how we can help.

  1. Educate you regarding the practical consequences of extending AT&T leases;
  2. Evaluate the probability that AT&T and/or Crown Castle could move the AT&T cellphone tower site if negotiations prove to be too expensive
  3. Determine how much you can increaserent, escalation and lease duration terms; and/ or
  4. Get tips on favorably negotiating the terms of the proposed Lease Extension Amendmentprior to signing.

What You Should Know About AT&T as a Tenant

Historically, AT&T Wireless has been proactive regarding new cell site builds and acquisitions. During the first half of 2014, it was by far the most active carrier nationwide. In fact, during that time period, we saw more inquiries from AT&T than all other wireless carriers combined.

In May 2014, AT&T announced its acquisition of Direct TV, and a few months later Isucell (a Mexican telecom), resulting in a pullback of its aggressive build plans. During the second half of 2014 and continuing through mid-2016, with a few rare exceptions, most of AT&T site acquisition negotiation efforts stopped altogether – although the carrier did continue to upgrade existing sites with equipment modifications. Flash forward to mid-2016. We have started to see some new growth from AT&T, although it is nowhere near as lively as it was a year ago. Our expectations are that AT&T will continue to build new cell sites and towers at a reduced but accelerating rate throughout the rest of the 2016. As of August of 2016, there hasn’t been much activity.

From a landowner’s standpoint, AT&T Wireless has been, and continues to be, a very desirable and responsible tenant. The carrier pays well to install cell sites, and is fairly straightforward to deal with – before the lease has been signed, as well as once the tower or rooftop site has been deployed. AT&T’s legal team, however, does tend to be stringent when it comes to changing the language of the lease template. In fact, depending upon who the specific attorney is, any changes may be quite laborious.


  1. AT&T will pay fair market value for new leases.
  2. AT&T favors long-term leases.
  3. AT&T is fairly open to negotiations – both before and after the Lease is signed.


  1. AT&T does not easily accept changes to the language used in its standard Lease Template.
  2. Once the Lease has been signed, AT&T expects Landlords to easily agree to any modification requests.
  3. AT&T does not immediately offer compensation for equipment modifications.

AT&T Lease Negotiation Tactics

New Cell Tower Land Leases

For those of you lucky enough to be contacted by AT&T directly, we recommend moving forward with lease negotiations as quickly as possible. In addition to paying fair market rents, AT&T favors long-term leases. (The exception to this is the late 2013 transaction where AT&T sold/ subleased 9700 towers to Crown Castle.)

AT&T Lease Modification Requests

As mentioned above, AT&T has recently been active with lease modifications and equipment upgrades. In the past four years, many of our clients have been approached up to three times regarding modifications to their site.

When it comes to site modifications, AT&T isn’t as transparent as we would like. It’s very common for the process to happen as such: You will receive a simple one-page letter stating that AT&T needs to make changes in order to “maintain its competitiveness and technological advantage”. Their letters almost always imply that said “changes” are being done in compliance with the Lease, and that a simple signature of consent is required to allow them access to your property. Unfortunately, it isn’t always true that the changes are implicitly allowed or are “in compliance” with your Lease. Of course AT&T doesn’t spell out that it might (or should) be required to pay fees for any changes. Rather, the carrier entices you to consent without question. We want you to know, that you can, in fact, gain an advantage in these equipment modification requests, and we have had ample success in providing property owners with the guidance they need to do so.

When you receive this type of letter, or any letter that requests access to the cell site, we would advise you to, at the very least, understand the specifics before consenting to any requests by the carrier, specifically since many modifications are deserving of compensation. For instance, if AT&T is doing more than simply replacing antennas, then it is likely making a strategic move. The addition or repositioning of antennas, as well as the expansion of the ground space footprint, can easily affect the overall value of the cell site.

Collocation and Subleasing

AT&T is prone to enter into “build-to-suit” agreements with mid-size tower companies, in which the tower company builds the tower to AT&T’s specifications at its desired location, then collocates space to AT&T (and potentially other carriers). In this case, you may be contacted directly by a tower company or its site acquisition agent, and will negotiate the footprint lease with the tower company who will then sublease space on the tower to AT&T.

AT&T Wireless News

Subscribers 126,400,000 (as of year end 2015)
Rank by Subscriber #2
Technology GSM, LTE
Wi-Fi Offload? Yes.
New Sites: 2016 Up to 800
Cell Sites 67,383
Tower Sales In October 2013, AT&T sold 9,700 towers to Crown Castle, under a leaseback agreement.

In 1999, Bell South (now part of AT&T) subleased 1,850 towers and agreed to allow Crown Castle build 500 more towers for it.

Major Acquisitions Part of Alltel, Centennial, Cingular, Cricket, Dobson

See how AT&T compares to other wireless carriers.

Steel in the Air Inspires Landowners, Venue Owners and Local Governments to Make the Best Out of Each Unique Location

Steel in the Air has been assisting landowners, venue owners and communities with cellular/ wireless telecom lease negotiations for over a decade. We have reviewed hundreds of AT&T leases and know the ins and outs of the industry better than anyone. We take great pride in providing unique, unbiased and reliable guidance.

Together, we will implement a plan based on educated goals. Your objective might be to:

  1. Understand your rights and obligations as a cell site Lessor.
  2. Negotiate the lease (or lease renewal) before signing.
  3. Determine the real market value of your lease as derived from rent, escalation and duration figures, as well as situational metrics, such as location and wireless infrastructure build plans.
  4. Use the lease as an asset, or part of an investment portfolio.
  5. Determine what type of wireless network is best for your community, organization, or venue.
  6. Create a process and Master Plan for county or municipal wireless infrastructure leases.
  7. Better understand industry dynamics, site acquisition strategies and policies or rules that could affect your lease now or in the near future.

Do you have Questions? Visit our Q&A Forum or Chat with us.

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