Metricom auction going, going...gone

An auction to sell off the company's assets is completed in less than three hours, but details of the sale won't be available until next week.

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SAN JOSE, Calif.--An auction to sell off the assets of Metricom, including its Ricochet high-speed wireless Internet network, was completed in less than three hours Thursday, but details of the sale won't be available until next week.

Sources speaking on condition of anonymity described the bidding as "quiet," with some potential buyers shying away because of uncertainties over the bidding process, which allowed Metricom to reject winning bids if it chose to.

Results of the auction won't be made public until Monday, according to a Metricom spokesman. That's when the company is expected to reveal who, if anybody, purchased the radio spectrum used to power the network. The spectrum was expected to fetch at least $50 million. The company was also trying to sell off other assets, which it valued at a minimum of $30 million.

Among the smaller-than-expected crowd of potential bidders was Verizon Wireless, the nation's biggest wireless carrier. Other wireless carriers were expected to attend as well.

Metricom ran the wireless Internet service for nearly five years, building a rabidly loyal base of 51,000 subscribers. But that was too few to keep the network going, so Metricom filed for bankruptcy earlier this month and shut down the network. Thursday's auction was a result of the bankruptcy proceedings.

About a half-dozen Metricom customers and some investors in the company tried to attend the auction, but were turned away because they had not posted a refundable deposit of up to $50,000. A deposit was necessary, according to the rules of the auction.

Among those turned aside was Fred Finster, one of the creators of newricochet.com, which is a grassroots effort trying to collect cash from former Ricochet subscribers to buy the network.

Finster was turned away even though he had a check for $10,000 to provide as a deposit. "I guess they didn't like my beard," he said.

Others turned away included Greg Broiles of San Jose, a Ricochet subscriber who along with some friends concocted a plan last week to buy the rights to service one of Metricom's 14 working markets.

He said they were ready to bid $500,000, but they were unable to post the required deposit.

"We couldn't come up with that kind of cash in a week," Broiles said.

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