Comcast Consultant: TWC Merger Could Lead to Mobile Wireless Offering

By Josh Long Comments
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Comcast Corp.'s $45.2 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable Inc. could pave the way for the nation's largest cable company to deliver mobile wireless services, an economic consultant told the Federal Communications Commission this week.

In detailing the advantages of the merger in Comcast's public interest filing with the FCC, Mark Israel of the economic consulting firm Compass Lexecon said Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC) customers would benefit from an expanded Wi-Fi offering, which could become "part of a strategy to use the combined firm's grid of Wi-Fi hotspots as a launching point for a national "Wi-Fi first' mobile wireless service."

The public interest statement was filed with the FCC on Tuesday, the same day a new subscription publication founded by a former Wall Street Journal writer reported similar plans.

Philadelphia-based Comcast had no comment, but a source familiar with the matter said the company evaluates many wireless technologies, but nothing is imminent.

In a declaration filed with the FCC that declared the megamerger would benefit the public, Israel raised the prospect that Comcast would offer mobile wireless service using Wi-Fi and wholesale network access from other providers.

"In addition to directly benefiting existing customers, to the extent that the transaction enables the combined firm to achieve a high-quality, broad-based, tightly integrated Wi-Fi network, it may facilitate entry into the mobile wireless industry at some point in the future, thus increasing compettion in the industry," he wrote. " I understand that such entry likely would be based on a network that combines Wi-Fi infrastructure with a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) option."

Wi-Fi a Priority

Comcast already has MVNO relationships with Sprint and Verizon Wireless that would enable the company to deliver its own branded mobile-phone service. But the broadband giant has been focused on Wi-Fi expansion, offering Xfinity customers high-speed access outdoors (in such public locations as sporting venues and beaches) and to small businesses, such as in waiting rooms and restaurants.

The central feature of Comcast's Wi-Fi initiative is neighborhood access that enables guests in homes who are Xfinity customers to access a separate Wi-Fi signal, relieving the homeowner of the need to share his password. The Wi-Fi offering is included with existing Xfinity service.

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