Cable Giants Pass on Spectrum Auction

As the deadline nears, Frontline jumps into the FCC spectrum auction to build a public safety network.

Comcast and Time Warner said Dec. 3 they would not participate in January's 700 MHz spectrum auction, eliminating two potential powerhouse bidders for the prime airwaves considered ideal for wireless broadband.

Google declared Nov. 30 it would be in the race for the spectrum while AT&T and Verizon, who have not officially stated their intentions, are expected to file by 6 p.m. Dec. 3 to bid on the spectrum.

Meanwhile, Frontline Wireless confirmed with eWEEK that it would bid for a separate block of spectrum with the intention of building a nationwide public safety network that would sell access capacity to wholesalers.

"We are bidding to win and to put into operation the principle of open access and the shared public safety network that we've championed from the beginning," said Mary Greczyn, a spokesperson for Frontline.

Comcast Senior Vice President D'Arcy Rudnay said the Philadelphia-based cable company had no need for additional spectrum. Comcast is the majority partner of SpectrumCo, which spent $2.4 billion last year to win spectrum in the Federal Communications Commission's advanced wireless services auction.


Read more here about Google's ultimate goals in the spectrum auction.

"Comcast Corporation has decided not to bid in the 700 MHz wireless auction," Rudnay said in a statement. "The 20 MHz of spectrum acquired in the wireless auction last year with our cable partners in SpectrumCo provides us with significant long-term flexibility and many strategic options."

While Google and others pursue the "beachfront" spectrum, where bidding will begin at $4.6 billion, Rudnay said Comcast would "continue to explore how wireless can complement our services through various partnerships and consumer trials."

Time Warner Cable Chairman and CEO Glenn Britt, speaking at the Global Media & Communications Conference in New York City Dec. 3, said the cable giant is also happy to sit out the bidding in the 700 MHz auction.


"The question has been do consumers, will consumers want to buy cell phone service from the people they buy the triple play from?" Britt said. "So far, we have not seen great demand for that."

With Comcast and Time Warner out of the picture, speculation for the next two months will focus on a probable bidding war between Google, AT&T and Verizon for the analog space being vacated by broadcasters as part of the digital transition.

The FCC set Dec. 3 as the final deadline for submitting applications to bid, but the agency is not releasing the names for another two weeks or more. Once bidding begins in the Jan. 24 auction, the FCC will not release any information until all bidding is final, which practically means it could be late February or early March before the winners are known.

On top of the minimum $4.6 billion bid, Rick Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, said in September that Google anticipates it could take as much as $12 billion and as long as three years to build a national wireless network from scratch.


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