The FCC’s record-shattering auction of wireless broadband licenses in the Advanced Wireless Service (AWS)-3 band ended late last Thursday with nearly $44.9 billion in gross winning bids posted primarily by four groups: AT&T, Verizon Wireless and a pair of small business ventures in which DISH Network is listed as an indirect stakeholder.
Thirty-one out of 70 qualified bidders posted provisionally-winning bids on all but three of the 1,614 licenses offered for sale in the AWS-3 auction. In terms of total bids pledged, AT&T earned the top spot, posting nearly $18.2 billion for 251 licenses, including the auction’s single highest bid of $2.8 billion for paired AWS-3 spectrum covering the New York City region. Citing FCC anti-collusion rules that prohibit auction winners from discussing their auction performance until February 13, AT&T declined to comment on its plans but told reporters that the company’s newly-won licenses provide “a near nationwide contiguous 10X10 MHz block of high-quality AWS-3 spectrum” that encompasses 96% of the U.S. population. Verizon committed $10.4 billion for 181 licenses that a company official confirmed “are in markets covering 192 million POPs, or 61 percent of the United States.”
Although DISH Network’s direct bidding vehicle, American AWS-3 Wireless, came up empty-handed, DISH nevertheless emerged with potential access to 702 licenses through its involvement in two joint ventures that participated in the auction as very small businesses that qualify for bid credits of 25%--SNR Wireless License Co LLC and Northstar Wireless LLC. FCC records indicate that a subsidiary of DISH holds an 85% interest that is “reportable as a 100 percent indirect non-controlling interest” in SNR, which bid successfully for 357 licenses. DISH also holds an indirect equity stake of 85% in Northstar, which won 345 licenses. Together, SNR and Northstar achieved gross winning bids of $13.3 billion, which results in a net total of nearly $10 billion after bidding credits are applied.
Other notable winners include (1) T-Mobile US, Inc., which secured rights to 151 licenses with total bids of $1.8 billion, (2) United States Cellular Corp, which posted net winning bids of $338.3 million for 124 licenses through its equity stake in Advantage Spectrum, L.P., and (3) Puerto Rico Telephone Company, a vehicle controlled indirectly by America Movil, which pledged $170.9 million for 15 licenses. Auction winners are required to submit long-form applications to the FCC by February 13 and final auction payments to the agency by March 2. Welcoming the AWS-3 auction results as “a good sign that bipartisan, collaborative efforts can and do produce positive results,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler joined House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) in voicing hopes for “the same level of dedication, cooperation and ingenuity as the Commission and its partners work to ensure the incentive auction is a success.”