Comcast, Time Warner decline to bid in 700 MHz auction

The two largest cable television franchise holders will not participate in the FCC's auction for the old UHF channel spectrum this January, indicating it could all come down to the telcos versus Google.

However the US Federal Communications Commission's upcoming auction for wireless spectrum plays out, the nation's two largest CATV franchise operators will not be involved. A Time Warner Cable executive stated as much to a gathering of communications industry leaders in New York this morning, as covered by IP Democracy; and Comcast made its intentions known in a formal statement.

"Comcast Corporation has decided not to bid in the 700 MHz wireless auction," the company stated very clearly this morning. "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. We will continue to explore how wireless can complement our services through various partnerships and consumer trials."

Comcast and Time Warner both, along with CATV operator Cox Communications, are partnered in SpectrumCo, whose objective has been to purchase wireless spectrum licenses and accumulate them into a sizable pool, where any of them may deploy communications services in the future. Sprint Nextel had been a partner in that venture as well, but backed out last August to focus on what it called its "primary strategic initiatives."

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt not only made his company's reluctance known, but rather publicly spat on the whole idea of what at one time was considered to be a possible savior for the cable industry: the so-called "quadruple play" of landline phone, mobile phone, broadband Internet, and digital cable television. "So far we've not seen a great demand for that," Britt is quoted as saying.

Britt reportedly went on to commend Verizon Wireless for its historic move last week to open its CDMA network to the customer's choice of equipment. By comparison, he admitted, his own company is still trying to figure out what to do with the segment of spectrum it currently owns.

So while the big BCS college bowl game match-ups seem to have been determined at random, another January battle appears to be set: Google versus Verizon Wireless and AT&T -- and although the latter pair is prevented by rules from colluding, it's not impossible to imagine them cooperating to some degree.

The question now becomes, at what point will the price of wireless access exceed the open-access, Android-oriented business model Google has in mind for it?

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