FCC: Spectrum Auction Ends at $19.6 Billion

The FCC's incentive auction is finally over… almost.

The clock phase of the action, where broadcasters gave up 84 MHz for about $10 billion and forward auction bidders—wireless companies and others including Comcast-NBCU—paid $19,632,506,746 for 70 MHz (the 84 minus guard bands) has ended.

That means the treasury will get about $7 billion for deficit reduction and broadcasters can start planning their post-auction futures in earnest.  FCC Chairman Ajit Pai signaled that a smooth transition would be a priority.

Related: FCC Finalizes Auction Repack Expense Guidance

But there is still a second mini, assignment phase auction among the winning bidders for specific frequencies. The clock phase forward auction was for generic blocks of 10 MHz—5 for uplink, five for downlink—with seven such blocks in each of the 416 partial economic areas (PEAs).

That is expected to take two or three weeks, after which the FCC will release its final public notice revealing who the winning bidders were among both broadcasters giving up spectrum and forward auction bidders buying it up.

That will trigger a 39-month window for repacking stations in their smaller spectrum quarters.

The auction was actually over for broadcasters on Jan. 18 when their exit price in the reverse auction was met. In fact the FCC is now letting them go public with their winnings—many have—and by now should have informed all or most of the stations still in business of what their channel will be in the repack.

The FCC on Friday (Feb. 10) finalized the catalog of expenses broadcasters can be compensated for in the move out of the $1.75 billion in repack funds allocated by Congress. Cable operators will also get some of that for re-tuning their head-ends to pick up the reconfigured signals where that is necessary.

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The FCC will release a public notice next week with details about the follow-on frequency auction.

And while broadcasters in the reverse portion of the auction have been freed by the FCC to talk about their winnings publicly, forward auction participants are still subject to the prohibited communications rule "until either the completion of the incentive auction as announced by the Commission by public notice, with respect to communications with broadcasters; or until the winning bid down payment deadlines, with respect to other forward auction applicants and related parties."

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai weighed in on the historic closure.

“Today, the FCC reached a major milestone in the world’s first incentive auction: bidding in the forward auction ended," he said in a statement. "Congratulations to the winners in both the reverse and forward auctions. The participation of these broadcasters and wireless carriers will enable the Commission to release 84 megahertz of spectrum into the broadband marketplace.  These low-band airwaves will improve wireless coverage across the country and will play a particularly important role in deploying mobile broadband services in rural areas.

“Delivering on the promise of this auction will require a smooth and orderly post-auction transition. That means we must ensure uninterrupted access to over-the-air television and a timely clearing of the new wireless band. We will devote a great deal of attention to those tasks over the coming months, and it will be a top priority of mine as Chairman of this agency.

“I want to express my gratitude to the Members of Congress who enabled the FCC to put a novel auction theory into practice by passing the Spectrum Act of 2012. Their leadership was instrumental in reaching this result.”

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.