After a single round on Monday, the third stage of the forward auction ended with a gross wireless industry bid total of $19.6 billion, falling far short of the $40.3 billion price tag set by broadcasters during the third stage of the reverse auction.
FCC officials affirmed Monday that “bidding in the forward auction has concluded for Stage 3 without meeting the final stage rule and without meeting the conditions to trigger an extended round.” Mirroring the forward auction’s second stage, which also ended abruptly, the FCC terminated Stage 3 at the point where equilibrium between license supply and demand had been reached in the top 40 markets. The spectrum clearing target for Stage 3 had been 108 MHz, out of which 80 MHz had been made available for sale to wireless carriers, after factoring in allocations for guard band and unlicensed spectrum. For Stage 4, the gross spectrum clearing target is expected to be 84 MHz, which would leave a net allotment of 70 MHz for the wireless industry. In all, nine different spectrum targets have been established for the incentive auction, and the FCC will continue to move to progressively lower targets until total bids by the wireless industry meet or exceed the clearing cost set by broadcasters, plus related FCC expenses and broadcast station repacking costs.
The FCC further announced that “bidding in Stage 4 of the reverse auction will begin on Tuesday, December 13th, and that further details would be forthcoming in a public notice to be issued later today. Because each stage of the reverse auction typically takes about a month to complete, the incentive auction process—which had been expected to conclude by year’s end—is now expected to wrap up in the opening months in the new year. Citing the wireless industry’s “decade-long refrain of a spectrum crunch,” National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith told reporters that “the results of the latest round of the TV auction leave us scratching our heads.” Nevertheless, Smith emphasized that “we look forward to the next round.” Wireless industry executives offered no comment.