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Editorial: Time to Step Up

The FCC’s latest forward auction stage began and ended in the blink or an eye last week—actually, two hours. Wireless companies signaled that they were not willing to bid up the price after the FCC reduced the spectrum blocks available.

The new price tag on that spectrum was $54,586,032,836, plus another couple of billion to pay the FCC’s bill for conducting the auction, and broadcasters’ (and some cable operators’) bills for the post-auction channel repack.

That was down from the original $88 billion-plus asking price for 100 MHz and much closer to initial estimates about the value of the spectrum.

Now the FCC will again reduce the amount of spectrum it needs to reclaim from broadcasters—fewer stations will get payouts—and try again with yet another reverse auction, a.k.a. stage three.

Wireless companies have for years been decrying the lack of beachfront low band spectrum, calling it anything from a spectrum crunch to a crisis.

Now is the time for them to put their money where their “crunch” is. The FCC designed the auction to go multiple rounds, but the more rounds it goes, the longer auction-eligible broadcasters will be in a kind of business limbo, restricted in how they can conduct their business.

Also, the longer the auction lasts, the longer broadcasters not giving up spectrum remain in a holding pattern, kept in check while the government hastens the rollout of 5G and pushes for over-the-top access to wider audiences via its set-top proposal.

The auction ain’t over ‘til its over, of course, and broadcasters won’t get any more than the buyers are willing to pay. But the sooner reverse and forward auction bidders can come to a meeting of the minds on price, the sooner broadcasters still in the business can get on with remaking, and repacking, their futures.