On Wednesday, Comcast CFO Michael Cavanaugh confirmed that his company is filing an application with the FCC to participate in upcoming “forward” auctions of wireless channels that will be surrendered voluntarily by television broadcasters during the reverse phase of the agency’s incentive auction process. During an earnings call with analysts, however, Cavanaugh fended off speculation that the nation’s largest provider of cable and fixed broadband services intends to amass large chunks of spectrum with the goal of establishing itself as a major competitor in the wireless market, emphasizing: “all we’re doing is taking a paddle in the auction to see if there is an opportunity for the company to be rewarded . . . with something that we think has strategic value.”
Applications to participate in the forward phase of the incentive auction must be filed with the FCC no later than February 10. (Owing to the closure of the federal government as a result of the recent blizzard in Washington, D.C., the FCC has extended the original February 9 filing deadline by one day.) Broadcasters that plan to surrender spectrum in the reverse auction have already filed their applications with the FCC. While the submission of applications reserves the right of broadcasters and wireless service providers to participate in the incentive auction, no entity will be required to bid.
Stressing that Comcast hopes to achieve “strategic flexibility,” Cavanaugh explained that “we’re going to evaluate, consider and may purchase” spectrum during the forward auction “but only if we think the price is right [and] after we do our evaluation of what is available.” Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit observed, meanwhile, that Comcast will use any auctioned spectrum it acquires in support of the company’s extensive network of 13.3 million Wi-Fi hotspots. (Comcast also plans to test various mobile virtual network operator services later this year pursuant to an October 2015 agreement with Verizon Wireless.) Boasting that his company added 89,000 pay TV customers during the fourth quarter of 2015 to post its best quarterly performance in that category in nine years, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts remarked, “our plan of record in 2016 is to execute on a business plan [and] stay focused.”