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Bidders for FCC Wireless Auction Named : Telecom: As firms race to win licenses for advanced mobile services, some warn that there are still 'multiple hurdles.'

November 02, 1994|JUBE SHIVER Jr. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators Tuesday disclosed the names of the 74 firms seeking to bid on lucrative licenses to provide advanced mobile phone services. But a key industry group has told regulators they must eliminate "multiple hurdles" before the technology is available to consumers.

Undeterred by fears of unfair competition and concerns that local zoning officials could delay construction of wireless transmission towers, many of telecommunications' biggest names met the Federal Communications Commission's deadline to register for a Dec. 5 auction of wireless licenses for so-called broad-band personal communications services, or PCS.

Applicants included all of the Baby Bell telephone companies, the General Motors Corp. subsidiary Electronic Data Systems Corp., long-distance carrier AT&T Corp., cellular telephone mogul Craig O. McCaw, and cable operators Continental Cablevision, Cox Cable Communications and Comcast.

Scores of lesser-knowns, such as Solana Beach, Calif., parking lot operator Excelsior Parking Corp. and a partnership headed by black attorneys Curtis White and Thomas Hart Jr., threw their hats in the PCS ring as well.

The auctions are aimed at launching a new generation of go-anywhere wireless devices that will enable people to send and receive phone calls, computer data and perhaps even video through portable devices as small as a wristwatch.

A pair of licenses will be bid in each of 51 regional markets, except New York, Los Angeles and Washington. Only one license will be auctioned in those three cities because the FCC has already awarded the second license under a program designed to recognize technical innovation.

There was an average of 27 bidders for each license. The most, 34, seek to provide service to American Samoa, said Regina Keeney, head of the FCC's wireless telecommunications bureau. Southern California attracted the fewest contestants--just 20 firms, including GTE and McCaw's new company, ALAACR Communications. McCaw, who recently sold his cellular empire to AT&T, is now poised to build a new mobile phone business.

Buoyant FCC officials said the number of applicants for the auction is in line with the number that applied in each of three previous auctions for wireless paging services. Those auctions began last summer and have attracted about $1 billion in bids. FCC officials said they have similarly high expectations for the December event.

"Estimates are (that) the winning bidder will invest as much as $30 billion to $50 billion dollars, in addition to their bids, to build the competing wireless networks," said Reed E. Hundt, chairman of the FCC. "This investment will add an additional 300,000 . . . jobs in the wireless industry and may contribute as many as 700,000" related jobs.

But in a letter sent to Hundt last week, Thomas E. Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Assn., expressed concern about zoning rules and said wireless operators could be at a competitive disadvantage because Bellcore, the research arm of the Baby Bells, controls the assignment of telephone numbers.

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