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WorldCom seeking licenses for fixed-wireless services

JACKSON, Miss. — WorldCom Inc. will forge ahead with plans to offer two-way, fixed wireless service across the United States, a move that is likely to force competition with Sprint Corp. and AT&T.;

Fixed wireless services, or multichannel, multipoint distribution service, send everything from cellular phone calls to video feeds and data without having to use fiber-optic lines or other wires.

The Clinton-based company applied for 60 permits with the Federal Communications Commission Monday and said it will apply for more through the rest of the year.

Joe Lazslo, a senior analyst in broadband and wireless at Jupiter Communications, said other telecoms will likely seek some of the same licenses.

"The other big, obvious mover in the MMDS space is probably Sprint,'' Lazslo said. "When it looked like the two companies were getting together it seemed like they would have a lock on a wireless presence in most of the major markets in the United States.''

WorldCom's proposed $129 billion merger with Sprint was called off in July amid regulatory scrutiny.

Another competitor could be long-distance giant AT&T; in markets where it doesn't own a cable system.

The spectrum being made available was primarily used by wireless cable broadcasters in the mid-1990s, said Scott Cleland, CEO of the Precursor Group in Washington.

"That business model did not work,'' Cleland said. "The question is can it work for high-speed access? Will people pay as much for high-speed access as they would for a competitive video offering?''

WorldCom has been testing MMDS in five different markets since last year. The new applications will cover cities from California to Rhode Island to Florida.

The FCC has the authority to deny the licenses, but Lazslo said that's unlikely to happen, unless another firm argues it should be granted the license for a particular area.

Lazslo said WorldCom will focus its fixed-wireless efforts on business customers, instead of consumers because of its relative high cost compared to cable modems and DSL services.

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