After 19 rounds, bids in the FCC’s auction of wireless broadband spectrum in the Advanced Wireless Service (AWS-3) bands had reached a jaw-dropping total of $24.2 billion as of yesterday, exceeding the previous record of $19 billion posted in the agency’s auction of 700 MHz band spectrum conducted in 2008.
The auction of 1,600 AWS-3 licenses in the paired 1755-1780 MHz and 2155-2180 MHz bands and the unpaired 1695-1710 MHz band commenced on November 13 with 70 qualified participants that include Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and subsidiaries of DISH Network and NTT Docomo of Japan. FCC records show that 37 bidders are participating as designated entities, defined as small or very small businesses that have qualified for bidding credits of 15% or 25%.
Under FCC rules, details on the lead or winning bidders for each market will not be disclosed until the auction is concluded. Sources indicate, however, that the gross bid total at the conclusion of Round 13 on Tuesday was enough to satisfy the $10.6 billion reserve set by the FCC for the paired spectrum bands. At the start of yesterday’s activity, the FCC also announced that new bids for any given license would have to be at least $50 million higher than the provisional high bid posted during the previous round. Bidding will continue until no new bids or waiver requests are posted in a round for each license.
Observers proclaimed, meanwhile, that the results of the AWS-3 auction to date bode extremely well for the FCC’s upcoming incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast television spectrum, both in terms of the value of that spectrum to wireless carriers and potential compensation to broadcasters that elect to surrender their channels. As Preston Padden, the executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, lauded the AWS-3 auction results as an “extremely bullish sign for the incentive auction,” an executive of wireless association CTIA termed the AWS-3 auction as an illustration of “what can happen when paired, licensed and internationally harmonized spectrum is available for the U.S. wireless industry.”