Charter Keeping Wireless Options Open

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By Tim McElgunn

Dec. 8 — Charter Communications, Inc. is mulling multiple avenues to offering a mobile wireless service, company CEO Thomas Rutledge told an investor conference in New York on Dec. 7.

“We think there is more than one path” to offering a mobile service, Rutledge said at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, according to a Bloomberg transcript. Rutledge said Charter is focused first on building out its Wi-Fi infrastructure to support a “sedentary wireless environment.” But that is not the end of the company's wireless ambitions.

Rutledge said that Charter will “be stepping into an MVNO relationship,” referring to a mobile virtual network operator agreement between Time Warner Cable and Verizon Wireless. Charter is waiting for regulatory approval of a deal that would combine Charter with Time Warner Cable, Inc. and Bright House Networks. The MVNO agreement would pass to “New Charter, ” allowing the company to offer a mobile wireless voice and data service to its customers using spectrum leased from Verizon.

Charter was not among the cable operators that joined together under the SpectrumCo name to buy 122 Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum licenses covering 259 million POPs in the AWS-1 auction in 2006. When Verizon Wireless purchased those licenses from Comcast, Bright House and Time Warner Cable for $3.6 billion in 2011, the companies agreed to a deal that gave them the option to market each other's products and to allow the cable operators to lease wireless capacity from Verizon to operate as MVNOs, selling services directly to their own subscribers. Comcast recently announced that it has exercised that option but has not yet announced any mobile wireless service offerings.

Even with the MVNO option available if the Time Warner Cable-Bright House acquisition is approved, Rutledge was not ready to commit to a specific wireless strategy.

Asked whether he sees Charter's wireless strategy confined to WiFi, Rutledge pointed to the FCC's incentive spectrum auction planned for early next year, but was non-committal about whether Charter would bid.

“There is an auction coming up, difficult for us to participate in that right now because we're not sure when we're going to close,” Rutledge said, according to the transcript.

Whether or not it participates directly in the upcoming auction, Rutledge plans to explore all of his options with regards to developing a wireless strategy. “We're not sure of a lot of things,” Rutledge said, “but we're certainly interested in the future of our relationship to spectrum and how we might get spectrum.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim McElgunn in Cherry Hill, NJ at tmcelgunn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com