Qwest Communications International Inc. will stop reselling Sprint Nextel Corp.'s wireless service and move its subscribers to Verizon Wireless' network, Qwest said Monday.
The move means Sprint, which is already struggling with a dwindling customer base, will lose more subscribers. Qwest contributed 824,000 to Sprint's rolls of 53.8 million subscribers at the end of last year.
The news was released after the close of the stock market, on the same day as reports emerged that Deutsche Telekom AG, the parent of T-Mobile USA, was mulling a bid for Sprint and Sprint was considering spinning off Nextel.
Sprint shares rose 83 cents, or 11 percent, to close at $8.72.
Qwest said it had signed a five-year contract with Verizon Wireless that will take effect this summer. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Current wireless subscribers will receive a free, comparable Verizon Wireless handset, probably in the last three months of this year, said Qwest spokesman Robert Toevs.
Toevs said the Sprint deal "was not right for us." With Verizon Wireless, Qwest will be able to sell wireless service not just to consumers, but to large corporate and government customers.
Qwest's brand won't be on the wireless service, as it has been under the Sprint partnership. But those who combine wireless service with a land line or Internet service can get one combined bill from Qwest.
Qwest has been reselling Sprint's service 2004. Chief Executive Edward Mueller said it February that the company was looking at its options in the wireless space.
Denver-based Qwest is the primary telephone service provider in 14 mostly Western states and operates a nationwide fiber optics network.
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. of New York and Vodafone Group PLC of Britain.