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FCC Unveils 700-Megahertz Spectrum Bidders

The Federal Communications Commission Monday released the list of the 214 bidders that qualified for the upcoming auction of 700-megahertz analog broadcast spectrum (dubbed auction 73) being reclaimed in the switch to digital.

Up for grabs are five blocks of beachfront spectrum for advanced wireless uses, including licenses in one block (the D block) currently aggregated for a national network that must be given over to first-responders in time of emergency. Frontline Wireless had planned to bid on that D-block spectrum but could not raise sufficient financing to cover a hefty upfront payment for the right to bid.

There will also be a dry-run mock auction (mock auction 74, for those keeping track) Jan. 22.

The auction has to raise a minumum of $10 billion, with that money handed over to the treasury by June 1. Some of it has already been handed out, including to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which is helping oversee the transition to digital TV and had to borrow against its share of the take.

Bidding starts Jan. 24 by phone and online. But if the FCC does not meet its reserve price on any of the five blocks, the block, or blocks, will be rebid in a separate auction (dubbed auction 76).

While Frontline dropped out of the bidding -- and out of business as well -- big name bidders include Advance/Newhouse Communications, AT&T, Bresnan Communications, Cavalier Telephone, Cox Communications and Google.

The C block, which also sets up as a potential national network, has open-access conditions on it that would require the winner to open the network to outside devices and applications. Google may be eyeing that spectrum to launch its own network, or alternately may want to ensure that the block meets its $4.6 billion reserve price. If it doesn't meet the reserve, the open-access conditions will be removed when the block is rebid.

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.