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The specter of Comcast as a wireless carrier is more than a little frightening

Mark Hachman | Feb. 4, 2016
Comcast voice, video, Internet... and now cellular? With Comcast's plans to bid for wireless spectrum, "Xfinity Wireless" sounds a little more real.

If the thought of Comcast supplying your cable, phone, Internet access and wireless service scares you, then hide under the covers: Comcast said Wednesday it's going to participate in the wireless spectrum offering the government will hold this spring.

Comcast isn’t obligated to bid. The company has simply declared its intention to participate. If the company bids and wins rights to a portion of the wireless spectrum that the FCC is offering up, then the most likely options would include a Comcast commitment to operating as a wireless carrier, or reselling the spectrum to another party. 

Comcast reported an 8.5 percent increase in fourth-quarter revenue to $19.2 billion, with profits remaining relatively flat at about $2 billion. At the end of 2015, Comcast reported adding 89,000 video customers, for a total of 22.3 million subscribers by year’s end. Another 460,000 signed up for Internet access, for a total of 23.3 million subscribers at the end of 2015. Comcast has far fewer voice customers: 11.5 million, a slight uptick from 2014.

Here’s what Comcast is aiming for, though: The company also broke out the numbers for its single-, double-, and triple-product customers—those “double play” and “triple play” packages that Comcast is always pleading with you to upgrade to. Tellingly, single-product sales dipped slightly to 8.4 million subscribers at the end of 2015. But double-product sales grew 5.38 percent to 9.2 million subscribers, and triple-product sales grew 2.4 percent to 10.1 million subscribers.

What this means: What those numbers mean is that, at 37 percent, triple-product subscribers not only make up the largest segment of Comcast subscribers, but they likely bring in the most revenue as well. Wouldn’t it be even better, Comcast executives are undoubtedly thinking, if users subscribed to four services, including wireless?

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t

Right now, Comcast is taking an “aw shucks” attitude to the whole thing. “All we’re doing taking a paddle to the auction, and see if we’re rewarded in that auction with something that we think would have strategic value,” Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast, said in a call with analysts. “In the past, that has proved to be not just a moneymaker, but has given us more strategic flexibility, and we want to know if that’s the case this time. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s any more than that.”

According to Investors’ Business Daily, the auction will begin in early March, with the FCC releasing 60MHz - 80MHz (megahertz) of prime, low-frequency radio spectrum owned by local TV broadcasters for auction. Comcast would obviously be competing with the four major U.S. carriers —- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—as well as other interested parties. 


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