Comcast, Charter may participate in 600 MHz auction, while Time Warner Cable plans to stay home

Top executives from Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR) said this week their companies are considering participating in next year's incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum. However, Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) will not take part in the bidding. But TWC did hint that it could be open to launching a wireless service if its competitors do.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge and Charter CFO Christopher Winfrey were asked during Charter's third-quarter earnings conference call if Charter had plans to participate in next year's incentive auction, and possibly enter the wireless business. 

"We're studying the auction. We're interested in it," Rutledge said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. "And I talked extensively in the past about the opportunities in being a mobile business, and there are a variety of ways to go into it."

"We're in a very awkward situation given the pendency of our deal to be able to participate in that," he said, referring to Charter's push buy Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, "but we are exploring it."

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said during the firm's earnings conference call that "we've seen some of the opportunity for NBC in that part of the auction and [it's] certainly something that we're likely to participate in." So while NBC as a broadcaster is likely to relinquish some spectrum, Roberts said that as a bidder for spectrum, Comcast is still evaluating its options and "the cable side [is] something we'll continue to study."

In contrast, Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus said on TWC's earnings conference call that "we have no intention of participating in the spectrum auction," according to Seeking Alpha transcript. "We're going to continue to pursue our strategy of adding mobility to our offerings by continuing to deploy Wi-Fi Hotspots. We think that adds compelling value to our high-speed data product, so we'll continue to pursue that."

Marcus said that it's an open question whether Time Warner needs to add a cellular wireless offering to its bundle of services. He said "there's no question that mobility is important to customers, but I think whether or not we to need deliver a quad-play, so to speak, or add a cellular product to our current offerings, I think remains to be seen."

However, Marcus left open the door, depending on what other MSOs pursue, and said that "clearly, if the marketplace evolves in such a way that that's an offering that our competitors deliver, then I think we may need to revisit it."

Marcus added: "And I think that's what's happened in Europe, where you have complete overlap of footprints of wireless and wireline providers and that's the way the competitive market has evolved, but I'm not convinced that it necessarily has to go that way here."

Roberts said on the Comcast call earlier this week that it will take around six months for Comcast to activate its MVNO deal with Verizon (NYSE: VZ). He said Comcast is "going to trial some things and test some things after we activate and we'll update people as that progresses" but that he had "no news" about a wireless offer that would leverage Comcast's 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots and Verizon's wireless network.

"We're in the test and learn mode" Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit said.

Roberts said Comcast has "always felt" wireless is a "part of a product set" but that he does not think Comcast needs to control a wireless network of its own. "I don't think we feel that we have to necessarily in anyway seek owner's economics," he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

For more:
- see this Seeking Alpha Charter transcript
- see this Seeking Alpha Time Warner Cable transcript
- see this Seeking Alpha Comcast transcript
- see this FierceCable article 

Related articles:
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Charter's Rutledge: We should have a mobile wireless product