One More Time: FCC Speeds CBRS Auction Yet Again

(Image credit: Future Media)

The FCC is trying to goose the CBRS auction yet again. 

On Tuesday (Aug. 25), the auction moved to five, 45-minute, rounds per day, up from four, one-hour rounds.

At press time the bidding continued at a snail's pace, inching up by only a couple hundred thousand dollars or less per round and with only two counties where demand exceeded supply.

Current gross proceeds after round 72 were $4,585,299,031, up only a little over $600,000 in the past four rounds.

Related: CBRS Auction Blows By Spectrum Reserve

In the first-ever auction of midband spectrum for 5G--the second will be the C-Band auction scheduled for November, the FCC is auctioning 70 MHz worth of county-based Priority Access Licenses (PALs) — a whopping 22,631 of them in the 3550-3650 MHz Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) band. That is the most-ever flexible use licenses made available in a single auction, the FCC says. Each license will be a 10 MHz unpaired channel.

The FCC voted 3-1 along party lines Oct. 23, 2018, to change the rules on licenses for the 3.5 GHz (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) band to make it more attractive for providers of 5G, which includes cable ops looking to up their mobile broadband game. The change was billed as a way to spur investment in the band and promote more efficient use, including for 5G.

Related: FCC Approves CBRS Bidders

The FCC set a reserve price on the spectrum at $107,991,840, which was met in round one. 

The licenses are subject to network build-out conditions and there is an opportunity for sale or lease on the secondary market, according to the CBRS Alliance. 

Pre-auction estimates for total auction proceeds ranged from about $2 billion to as much as $10 billion.

Mark Gibson, director, business development, at CommScope, and a board member of the CBRS Alliance and Wireless Innovation Forum, calls the auction historic for a number of reasons. "First, this is the most licenses ever auctioned by the FCC at 22,631. Second, this is the most bidders ever participating in an FCC auction at 271. Third, it’s likely someone will be able to acquire a spectrum license for a little over $1,000. Another notable point is that there is steady interest in small counties." 

He said he thinks the auction will wind up putting some spectrum in the hands of smaller, rural interests, which is one of the FCC's goals. 

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.