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MVDDS Auction Tops $100M

The Federal Communications Commission's current spectrum auction topped $100 million Tuesday, fueled by a bidding war between firms backed by EchoStar Communications Corp. and Cablevision Systems Corp.

The FCC is selling 214 licenses -- roughly one for each TV market -- that winning bidders may use to provide dozens of channels of video programming and high-speed data service, a combination the agency calls multichannel-video-distribution and data service (MVDDS).

After 17 rounds in an auction that began Jan. 14, the commission has collected $121.6 million in bids, led by South.com LLC with $75.2 million committed for control of 29 license. South.com is 49.9%-owned by EchoStar, which is controlled by CEO Charlie Ergen.

Trailing South.com was DTV Norwich LLC with $37.5 million pledged for 46 licenses. Cablevision's satellite arm, Rainbow DBS, owns 49% of DTV Norwich. Cablevision, the No. 6 cable MSO, is controlled largely by chairman Charles F. Dolan.

South.com and DTV Norwich are leading the pack. The third-highest bidder was MDS Operations Inc., which had pledged $4.8 million for 48 licenses covering small and midsized markets.

MVDDS auction revenue has exceeded expectations. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) estimated that the FCC would take in about $100 million.

The agency plans to shut down the auction when bidding rounds -- which are occurring electronically -- fail to generate new high bids.