WorldCom Pops MMDS High-Speed-Data Plans

After sitting for more than one year on wireless cable licenses it had acquired in a flurry of deals, WorldCom Inc. is moving to put those properties to use.

WorldCom filed applications with the Federal Communications Commission last week for two-way licensing authority in more than 60 markets. The company wants to offer fixed-wireless high-speed-data services using multichannel-multipoint-distribution-service technology. Big markets include Boston; Providence, R.I.; Pittsburgh; and San Antonio. Smaller cities include Jackson, Miss.; Memphis, Tenn.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Norfolk, Va.

WorldCom plans to launch the service initially in Memphis in the fourth quarter.

The company plans to initially use the MMDS spectrum to provide service to business customers. A residential offering could come later.

In early 1999, then-MCI WorldCom Inc. touched off a bidding war with Sprint Corp. for MMDS licenses, buying stock and debt in four wireless cable companies for around $1.2 billion.

In total, the company acquired 160 MMDS licenses that covered more than 39 million homes across the country. However, those licenses were only for one-way video services, hence the recent FCC applications.

The FCC has 60 days to seek comment on the license applications. If no petitions to deny are made within that time frame, the applications are automatically granted.

WorldCom said it would file applications for the remaining 100 licenses during upcoming FCC filing windows.

Spokeswoman Julie Moore said the company has waited so long to put its MMDS licenses to use because this is the first time the FCC has opened its filing window for the technology. She added that the agency is likely to open its next MMDS-filing window later next month.

"Our applications move us one step closer to market launch," WorldCom Wireless Solutions president John Stupka said in a prepared statement. "We'll work with the FCC and other spectrum holders to make this a speedy and smooth licensing process."

Moore declined to speculate on whether video services would be offered in conjunction with high-speed data. However, she said, while the addition of voice services is possible over MMDS, the technology is not as high-quality as other wireless offerings.