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FCC Speeding 3.45 GHZ Auction Yet Again

FCC Building
(Image credit: FCC)

The FCC has made another move to speed up bidding in the 3.45 GHz midband spectrum auction.

The FCC is auctioning flexible-sue licenses that will almost certainly be used for 5G, particularly given that the biggest bidders are AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.

The auction launched Oct. 5 and, as of round 19 late Wednesday (Oct. 13) had drawn bids of just over $3 billion. It will have to raise almost $15 billion in bids to meet the FCC's reserve price, after which the auction could close.

That is because it will cost about that much to clear the 100 MHz of spectrum currently used by the Department of Defense, which identified that swath as being shareable with commercial users so long as they don't interfere with nearby DOD systems like radar.

The FCC signaled that as of Friday, Oct. 15, it will increase the frequency of bids from four per day to five, and shorten the rounds from an hour to a half-hour.

Unlike past auctions, the FCC is taking those actions without announcing them in advance on the auction web site, whose announcements page at press time remained blank despite the latest move and an earlier one that increased the rounds per day from three to four.

It is typical for the FCC to make such moves to try and get bidders off the sidelines and move the auction along.

Congress mandated in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 that the FCC come up with a system of competitive bidding by year's end for the 100 MHz of spectrum the Defense Department identified for sharing in the band. Congress set a December 2021 deadline for the auction.

The FCC is auctioning the 100 MHz spectrum in 10 MHz spectrum blocks — as commissioner Geoffrey Starks had advocated — with a 40 MHz limit on how much any one bidder can acquire in a single area.

The FCC is providing a $25 million bidding credit for small businesses and a $10 million credit for rural providers.