700MHz Auction Draws Verizon, Chevron

The FCC has released lists of accepted and incomplete applications for the auction.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless want to go up against other current mobile operators and some possible future competitors, including Google, in next month's auction for 700MHz wireless spectrum around the U.S.

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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday released lists of accepted and incomplete applications for the auction, in which it will sell licenses to frequencies that are set to be vacated by analog TV stations. It has accepted 96 applications and reported 170 as incomplete. The latter need to be completed by Jan. 4.

AT&T and Verizon are not surprise entrants but are the country's biggest mobile operators. If either carrier won a portion of the spectrum that has been designated for use by any device and any service, it would have to open up its network more than any big U.S. operator ever has. Verizon has already unveiled part of a plan to further open its network.

They were on the list of incomplete applications, along with smaller mobile operators Alltel and MetroPCS. Cable operator Cox Communications, an archrival of the telecommunications giants, is also preparing an application. And cellular technology giant Qualcomm, which is already building a mobile entertainment network on vacated TV channels, is also gearing up to bid. Would-be bidders with incomplete applications have until Jan. 4 to complete their paperwork.

Google earlier this year offered to participate in the auction in return for the FCC imposing open-network requirements. The booming Internet company's involvement could drive up bids all around, helping the government reap its hoped-for US$10 billion payday for the spectrum. Google's application has already been accepted, the FCC said Tuesday. So has that of Towerstream, a wireless broadband provider to businesses.

One surprise applicant yet to complete its papers is oil giant Chevron.

Participation by Chevron in the auction comes "out of the blue," said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates. However, oil companies and utilities are big wireless users, so he can see why Chevron might be interested.

Chevron, like Google, is unlikely to actually build a network, though, he said. "I can see them potentially winning but then becoming landlords, renting it out," he said. For both companies, that decision wouldn't be based on the cost of building a network but on the experience required: Neither company has any history of constructing and operating a wireless network, a complicated undertaking.

Also Tuesday, the agency extended the Dec. 28 deadline for upfront payments in the auction to Jan. 4 and pushed back a mock auction until Jan. 22. The auction itself is set to begin Jan. 24.

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