Wireless carriers and other firms that recently won rights to surrendered broadcast spectrum in the clock phase of the FCC’s incentive auction commenced bidding Monday in the forward auction assignment phase, during which they will compete for specific 10 MHz frequency allotments that fall within each 70 MHZ block of spectrum in each of 416 partial economic areas (PEAs).

The assignment phase is open to any forward auction clock phase bidder that won at least one paired spectrum block in any of the PEAs nationwide. Participation in the assignment phase is optional. Analysts believe assignment phase bidders will consist primarily of companies that won rights to multiple license blocks in a PEA and that aim to maintain their spectrum holdings in a contiguous group. Bids posted during the assignment phase will also add to the gross bid tally of $19.6 billion which was achieved during the forward auction clock phase and which represents the second-highest auction total in FCC history. Winners of generic license blocks that choose not to participate in the assignment auction will ultimately have their licenses assigned by the FCC’s auction system.

As stated in a public notice issued last month by the FCC, the assignment phase will consist of 74 rounds “based on the number of PEAs that can be grouped together for bidding.” The FCC expects to conduct four rounds per day, with high demand PEAs to be assigned first in decreasing order of weighted pops. The FCC will not disclose any information on the progress of the assignment auction while it is ongoing, and participants will remain subject to the auction’s anti-collusion rules. Affirming that the end of the assignment phase on March 30 will also conclude the incentive auction process, FCC officials anticipate that a public notice announcing reverse and forward auction winners, final bid prices, markets won and the due date for long-form license applications will be issued by mid-April, thereby triggering the start of the 39-month spectrum transition and channel repacking period for broadcasters that remain on the air.