Comcast: We might buy spectrum during FCC's 600 MHz incentive auction

Comcast confirmed that it plans to participate in forward portion of the FCC's upcoming incentive auction of TV broadcasters' 600 MHz spectrum. But don't expect the cable company to walk away with a haul of new spectrum licenses.

Comcast said in October that its NBCUniversal unit would likely give up spectrum to the FCC as part of the incentive auction, but it has been circumspect about its intentions to buy any spectrum at auction. However, CEO Brian Roberts said today during the company's earnings call with analysts that the company "is taking a paddle" in the upcoming auction but is only considering acquiring spectrum that can give it more "strategic flexibility" rather than aggressively pursuing a wireless service, according to Multichannel News.

Comcast's Neil Smit also said that the company is looking at "hand-off" technology for its 13.3 million Wi-Fi hotspots as it continues to explore entry into the wireless business. 

The FCC's incentive auction is scheduled to start in the coming months, and will include a "reverse" portion where TV broadcasters will give up their spectrum licenses to the FCC, and then a "forward" portion where bidders like Verizon and AT&T will bid on those licenses.

Comcast's plans to participate in the auction follow its move late last year to activate its MVNO agreement with Verizon. That agreement stems from Verizon's 2011 purchase of AWS-1 spectrum from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cox Communications. Comcast has said it plans to test various wireless services through its MVNO agreement with Verizon sometime this year, but hasn't provided any details.

Comcast's new interest in wireless services has led some to speculate that Comcast would play the role of dark horse in the upcoming auction, spending big on airwaves in preparation for a substantial wireless launch. However, the company may only participate in the auction as a spectator and not actually buy any spectrum.

As for its quarterly performance, Comcast said it added 89,000 pay-TV customers in the fourth quarter, its best quarterly performance in the category in nine years. 

For more:
- see this FierceCable article
- see this Multichannel News story

Related articles:
Comcast continues to hint at wireless plans, says NBC will likely give up spectrum in incentive auction
Analyst: Comcast triggers MVNO deal, will launch Wi-Fi-first service in 2016
Tight carrier budgets may lead to disappointing 600 MHz auction revenues for FCC