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Ballmer again: AT&T and Verizon should rule the airwaves

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CTIA In a none-too-subtle jab at two of his biggest competitors - Apple and Google - Steve Ballmer has said that Microsoft will not bid for a prime portion of the US wireless spectrum.

Following his keynote at CTIA Wireless I.T. and Entertainment, a mammoth mobile tradeshow underway in San Francisco, the Microsoft CEO sat down to answer several canned questions from the show's master of ceremonies, ex-American football star and CTIA CEO Steve Largent. With question number two, Largent asked whether Ballmer had any intention of bidding for the so-called 700-MHz band, a slice of wireless spectrum due to be auctioned off by the Federal Communications Commission early next year.

"No, we don't, as a matter of fact," Ballmer answered. "Terrible as it is to our competition, we don't have plans to participate in spectrum auctions."

You see, Google has openly flirted with a bid for the band, and the rumor mill says that Apple is toying with the idea as well.

But Ballmer believes that wide-area wireless services should be left in the hands of companies like AT&T and Verizon. He thinks they're better suited to the task. "[Microsoft] may be broader in what we do than almost any company out there, but we think we have a core competence, and we think that the telecom industry and the service providers have a core competence," he said.

At this point, someone in the audience started clapping. "Thanks, Dad," Ballmer said. But he quickly pointed out this was just a joke. And we're inclined to believe him. No one would clap at such a thing unless they worked for a big telco. Not even Ballmer's Dad.

"It takes a real expertise to set-up networks, to invest in capital expenditure, to do the servicing of the networks, to provide the customer service 7 by 24," Ballmer continued. "That is a core capability."

He also said that if Microsoft placed a bid, the telcos would get angry. "It would probably do a lot to alienate the telecom industry. It doesn't advance our goal, which is to take some very exciting [mobile] technology and put it everywhere."

This goal was the running theme of Ballmer's keynote. Unlike his competitors, he said again and again, Microsoft plays so very nicely with rest of the mobile market.

But in arguing that the big telcos should own the airwaves, Ballmer is satisfying his partners at the expense of the American consumer.

Google doesn't want to run its own wireless network. It wants to sell spectrum to third-party ISPs, hoping to finally create some competition in the broadband internet market. That's the broadband market as a whole, not just the wireless market. Remember, the likes of AT&T and Verizon control not only the airwaves, but all those wired lines as well.

Meanwhile, Steve Ballmer is arguing that we should maintain this status quo. Verizon and AT&T may agree with him. But that's about it. ®

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