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Bidder for Metricom's assets surfaces

Aerie Networks is in negotiations to buy half the equipment that once powered Metricom's Ricochet wireless Internet service, and could finalize plans by next week.

Aerie Networks is in negotiations to buy half the equipment that once powered Metricom's Ricochet wireless Internet service and could finalize plans by next week, according to an attorney for the bankrupt Metricom.

The Denver-based fiber-optics network owner is negotiating with Metricom to buy equipment in six states--New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Colorado, Metricom attorney Margaret Sheneman told a bankruptcy judge on Friday .

That represents about half the network that Metricom built to deliver high-speed wireless Internet service before it filed for bankruptcy, according to Sheneman. The other half of the network, spread out in about a dozen other states, will be abandoned if a buyer doesn't appear, she said.

With the equipment, Aerie could possibly relaunch the much loved, but expensive, wireless Internet service in those six states. But additional details of the deal with Aerie Networks--including whether it bought the radio spectrum Metricom used to operate the network--were not released during the court hearing. Neither Metricom nor Aerie Networks were commenting Friday.

Aerie Networks is in the middle of building what its Web site claims is "the largest-capacity, lowest-cost broadband netowrk ever conceived." It has plans to extend Internet service to 194 cities in the United States, according to the Web site.

Metricom provided a wireless Internet service called Ricochet to consumers and businesses, allowing users of a laptop computer or other wireless device to connect to a wireless network in several major cities. The network was built in 44 cities, but only launched in 14 of them. Beset by technological glitches and slow adoption rates, Metricom was forced into bankruptcy this summer amid a larger downturn in the fortunes of telecommunications companies large and small.

Aerie would create a new division that would act as the network's owner, called Ricochet Holding Company, according to the attorney.

Previous court filings indicated that Metricom's assets could be sold for as little as $30 million. Court records show the company is $1 billion in debt.

Metricom garnered 51,000 customers in 14 U.S. cities. The network was turned off earlier this month as part of the company's bankruptcy proceedings.

Ricochet's 51,000 subscribers, who paid as much as $80 a month for service after buying a modem for $300, are still the service's biggest fans. They have been sending companies like Wireless Web Connect, which resold the Ricochet service, thousands of e-mails demanding the service be turned on again.

"We might have gotten our Ricochet back," said DeeDee McGann, a San Diego, Calif., resident, Ricochet user and investor. She often used the wireless service to communicate with her husband, who is in the military and often in areas where the regular Internet isn't available.