Sixty-two entities, including Comcast Corp., DISH Network and three of the top four national wireless carriers, opened bidding Tuesday in the forward phase of the FCC’s precedent-setting incentive auction, ending the day with nearly $8.5 billion in total gross bids.  During the forward auction clock phase, wireless carriers and prospective wireless industry players are competing for 600 MHz spectrum assets surrendered by television broadcasters during the auction’s reverse phase which ended in June.  Tuesday’s bid tally is the result of a single round held that day, and the FCC moved to two-per-day rounds on Wednesday.  The agency is raising minimum bids prices by 5% during each round, and participants must bid on most of the spectrum in which they have confirmed interest to avoid having their eligibility “irrevocably reduced.”

At the close of Wednesday’s activity, total gross bids had risen to $9.7 billion, which surpasses the halfway point to the $15.9 billion mark prescribed by the FCC as the first component of the auction’s final stage rule.  FCC officials also affirmed that demand (thus far) is exceeding the available supply of spectrum in nine of the top ten markets and that all 416 markets have posted at least one bid.  The second component of the final stage rule--$88.4 billion—would cover the $86.4 billion clearing cost that had been set by broadcasters during the reverse phase of the auction plus an additional $2 billion needed to cover the FCC’s auction-related expenses.  For wireless bidders to gain access to the full spectrum clearing target of 126 MHz, which includes 26 MHz to be allocated for unlicensed use, the forward phase of the auction must garner enough total bids to satisfy the first and second components of the final stage rule.  If total bids in the forward auction fail to reach $88.4 billion, the FCC will run additional auction stages that will result in progressively lower spectrum targets in the reverse auction and less available spectrum for wireless carriers in the forward auction.  (The next lower clearing target is 114 MHz, which would leave 90 MHz for commercial wireless industry use.)

Bidding in the forward auction is expected to continue for several months.  Although auction participants are barred under FCC rules from discussing their bids or bid strategies, National Association of Broadcasters executive vice president Rick Kaplan proclaimed in a blog post that “broadcasters did their part in the first phase of the auction,” adding: “it will be important to watch how the forward auction unfolds, as this is the golden opportunity for which the wireless industry has lobbied intensely.”