Google Declines to Rule Out Wireless Airwave Bid

By Eric Auchard

Google Inc. on Thursday opened the door to the possibility that it could bid on U.S. licenses for wireless radio spectrum in order to offer Internet access services, but said no plans were imminent.

Co-founder Larry Page said the company has no wireless spectrum acquisition plans to announce but declined to rule out speculation that Google may be gearing up for a push far beyond wireless trials it is working on in the San Francisco area.

"We haven't announced any plans with regard to spectrum, but we are generally interested in improving access to the Internet," he said in a tone mixing the excitement of a keen science student with that of a billionaire ready to pay for the undertaking.

He was responding to a question by a Wall Street analyst over whether the company's wireless strategy would lead the company to bid in upcoming U.S. airwave auctions.

"In general we are interested in anything that can provide better, more transparent access to the Internet," said Page, who is co-president of Google in charge of products and also the company's biggest shareholder.

Later, in a phone interview, Chief Executive Eric Schmidt also said Google had no current plans to bid on radio spectrum.

The Federal Communications Commission is slated to auction 90 megahertz of wireless airwaves starting June 29 and initial applications to participate in the sale are due by May 10.

The licenses could be used for advanced wireless services like high-speed Internet access and video.

The FCC is also expected by January 28 to start auctioning 2008 wireless airwaves that television broadcasters are giving up as they move to digital signals. The two auctions are expected to raise billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury.

Google is working on a citywide wireless project with Internet access provider EarthLink in San Francisco, and a trial project of its own in the town of Mountain View, where its headquarters is based. It has said it is studying how it might use advertising to offer free municipal wireless access.

Schmidt, asked about radio spectrum, said, "We don't have a huge bid being prepared." He joked that a random engineer might be working on a side project without his knowledge.

"It would take some work for an engineer on 20 percent time to prepare a billion dollar bid," Schmidt said.

Google encourages some employees to devote a portion of their work week to so-called "20 percent time" projects to develop innovative ideas outside their day-to-day jobs.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, D.C.)

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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