AWS-3 Auction: Make That $43 Billion

The FCC's AWS-3 wireless spectrum auction passed another milestone, Wednesday, pushing past the $43 billion figure with $43,021,856,200 in total provisional bids for the 65 MHz of spectrum up for auction, a combination of private and government spectrum the FCC put together to free up for wireless broadband.

New bids for the latest round (there were 110 of them) totaled $53,995,600. Currently only 8 of the 1,614 licenses up for auction have no bids. At one point all of them did, but some were subsequently withdrawn. That will not affect the ability of the auction to close, which happens when there are no more bids or waivers in a round.

Among the 70 bidders are AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, which are expected to get the lion's share of the spectrum up for auction.

The auction is in its 76th round (it began Nov. 13), and has almost quadrupled its reserve price and more than doubled the size of the FCC's next-biggest auction (it has been auctioning spectrum since 1994). The next biggest auction was the 2008 700 MHz auction, which brought in $18,957,582.

The proceeds from the auction, after expenses for clearing the spectrum and holding the auction are covered, will go toward paying for the FirstNet interoperable broadband network, E911 and R&D, with the leftover going to the treasury to pay down debt. It also relieves the upcoming incentive auction from having to cover those projects.

The auction has slowed, but has not yet signaled it is ready to close up shop. The FCC this week extended the comment deadlines on its proposal to change/clarify some auction bidding rules so that commenters could process the AWS-3 auction first. The new initial deadline for those comments was Dec. 29 and is now Jan. 23, so it sounds like the FCC is expecting the auction to continue for at least a few more days, but not another month or more.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.