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Bidders Emerge in Wireless Auction

Internet giant Google Inc. and telecommunications carriers AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless are among those expected to bid in January in a government auction of the last remaining smidge of wireless airwaves.

Companies wishing to participate in the auction had until Monday to file an application with the Federal Communications Commission.

In about three weeks, the agency will release a full roster of application submissions. Companies that filed incomplete applications have a chance to refile by Dec. 28, which also is the auction's deadline for upfront payments.

The wireless airwaves up for bidding lie on a particularly valuable band of spectrum, that's being freed up as part of the switch to digital television in February 2009. The choice airwaves can travel long distances and easily penetrate walls, ideal for high-speed Internet service.

The auction, scheduled to begin Jan. 24, could raise as much as $15 billion for the U.S. Treasury.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google confirmed last week it would bid at least $4.6 billion, while AT&T executives previously indicated they'd participate for what they consider "beachfront property."

"It doesn't get any better than this," AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said of the opportunity, during an appearance last week at the Churchill Club in Santa Clara, Calif.

Verizon Wireless -- a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group Plc. -- is largely expected to participate, although executives have not explicitly said so.

Privately held Cox Communications Inc., the country's third-largest cable provider, appears to be the only cable operator in on the bidding. Both Time Warner Cable Inc. and Comcast Corp. declined on Monday.

Comcast, Time Warner and Sprint Nextel Corp. are part of a group that purchased a swath of spectrum last fall through another government auction. Comcast said that purchase provides it with "significant long-term flexibility and many strategic options."

Also declining to bid is satellite broadcaster DirecTV Group Inc., according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Tuesday.

A spokesman for EchoStar Communications Corp. declined to comment Tuesday on whether the satellite TV provider would participate in the auction.

But Pacific Crest Securities analyst Steve Clement said its participation may signal to investors that AT&T's rumored buyout of EchoStar may not happen. He added that with the auction now entering a "quiet period," participants -- including AT&T and EchoStar -- are prohibited from discussing potential mergers.

Expected bidders also include Frontline Wireless LLC, a technology industry-backed company headed by former federal officials, and low-cost wireless providers MetroPCS Communications Inc. and Leap Wireless International Inc.

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