Paul Allen, Long-Time Wireless Fan

There was a lot of interest over the holidays in Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s application to bid in the upcoming U.S. auction for wireless spectrum — the Wall Street Journal, Reuters and John Cook’s Seattle PI blog took note and wondered what Allen planned to do with any spectrum he may end up purchasing.

It’s a valid question, but it’s important to remember that this is far from Allen’s first involvement in wireless auctions. In July 2006, a little company called Bend Cable Communications, backed by Allen and his firms Vulcan Spectrum and Charter Communications and in partnership with a Bend, Ore.-based cable company by the name of Bend Broadband, filed for the wireless spectrum Auction 66. Allen ended up qualifying for the auction and paid an upfront fee of $176,000, but if I recall correctly, didn’t end up purchasing much.

Allen’s plans to run a broadband provider actually started when he bought a major share in cable company Charter Communications in 1998; that company ended up providing service to 5 million-plus subscribers. Allen was also reported to have purchased $15.1 million worth of spectrum in 2002 through Vulcan and Charter, and the WSJ says that Allen’s Vulcan bought at least 24 700-megahertz licenses in 2003, based in Washington and Oregon.

We’re thinking Allen’s Charter Communications still harbors wireless dreams similar to those of the other cable companies, which have been trying to use wireless to fight the phone companies in the great subscriber acquisition race. In the struggle to push content down pipes to subscribers, why not try, yet again, for a mobile angle? Well, we guess it ultimately depends on the prices.

The Federal Communications Commission’s auction of 700-megahertz spectrum, which is scheduled to begin at the end of January, could be one of the last good bids for non-traditional companies to purchase access to wireless subscribers. Google is throwing its hat in, though perhaps that’s just to shake up the auction and not really make any purchases. Like Google, Allen could just be testing the waters and not make a serious play for spectrum. But Allen has spent a good decade looking at broadband and wireless plays, and the upcoming auction offers him yet another chance to fulfill those wireless dreams.

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