FCC Spectrum Auction Putters Along

Neither rain fade nor snow fade nor gloom of government shutdown is staying the FCC's incentive auction team from trying to push more wireless spectrum to market.

The FCC's 28 GHz spectrum auction continued its slow wind-down Thursday (Jan. 3), resuming bidding after a holiday hiatus--bidding was suspended Dec. 21.

The FCC will continue the auction during the government shutdown. It had signaled in its shutdown plan that up to 200 employees would remain on the job "supporting spectrum auction-related activities." They can remain because their salaries are not funded out of annual appropriations. Some outside contractors will also be used to support auction activities.

Over Thursday's four rounds (the fourth was round 92), the provisional winning bid (PWB) total increased to $690,154,250 for the 2,937 licenses with PWBs. There are currently 135 licenses with no bids on them, but the auction can close without bids on any of those since it had a low aggregate bid minimum over all the licenses of about $40 million.

Related: FCC Will Keep Repack, 28 GHz Auction Going During Shutdown

The round-by-round bidding increases have been below $100,000 for the past 11 rounds, including one when only a little over $21,000 in new money was on the table.

The FCC is still on a four-round-per-day bidding schedule, but could boost that if it wants to try and goose the auction to closure so it can proceed to the next auction, of 24 GHz spectrum, which will begin as soon as this auction closes.

There are 40 qualified bidders competing for the 28 GHz spectrum, including Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, but none of the major cable operators eyeing wireless plays--though Cox is signed up for the 24 GHz auction.

The 28 GHz licenses are relatively small (county sized), collectively reach only 25% of the population--so more rural areas--and are in a band with incumbent users to navigate, so the prices are not in the same ballpark as the broadcast incentive auction ($19 billion) or the AWS-3 auction (almost $45 billion) which both featured broad swaths of contiguous spectrum, in the case of the incentive auction after broadcasters were incentivized to move.

The FCC concedes it has never pushed so much spectrum into the market at one time before, which could mean those lower prices, but the point is to get the spectrum out there "fast" given that wireless carriers have been talking up the need for speed and bandwidth for an internet of everything, 5G world.

But the FCC's goal in the 28 GHz auction is to get as much spectrum into the pipeline as possible for wireless broadband to help the U.S. win the race to next-gen 5G service and boost competition to wired carriers.

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.