Round 11: ASW-3 Auction Approaches $9 Billion Bid

The FCC's Aws-3 auction of wireless spectrum continues to draw a crowd.

At press time Monday, round 11 of the auction had closed — the last round of the day — with $8,919,345,200, already approaching its collective reserve price of $10.587 billion.

More than a billion dollars more was bid ($1,378,768,200) than in round 10 on 1,295 out of 1,614 licenses up for auction. There were 1,056 new bids.

The bidding could go on for days, weeks or even months, with the pace usually leveling off after the early flurry, which showed no signs of abating Monday, day three of the auction, which started Nov. 13 with $1.7 billion bid in round one.

Bidding continues until there are no new bids in a round or a bidder exercises a waiver, which means they are passing but wants the chance to bid again.

In the AWS-3 auction, 65 MHz of spectrum is up for bid, part of a congressional — and White House — mandate to free up wireless spectrum for mobile broadband.

AWS-3 is the second of three spectrum auctions mandated by Congress to fund the FirstNet interoperable broadband network, as well as local first responders, advanced 911, R&D, and deficit reduction.

The first auction, of H block spectrum, collected $1.564 billion toward that goal (FirstNet alone is $7 billion), but the FCC is already predicting that the AWS-3 auction will raise most if not all of that $7 billion, putting less pressure on the third auction, the broadcast incentive auction, scheduled for 2016.

If the FCC meets its reserves in the AWS-3 auction, it will more than cover that. The aggregate reserve for the 65 MHz is $10.587 billion — actually it is two separate reserves. The 1695-1710 MHz license reserve will be approximately $580 million, while the paired 1755-1780 MHz/2155-2180 MHz licenses reserve is $10.07 billion.

The FCC has to pay auction expenses out of that total, and moving and relocation costs for the government agencies who are giving up or sharing spectrum. In its AWS-3 transition plan, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration estimated total relocation and sharing costs for the 1695-1710 MHz band at $527.1 million and for the 1755-1780 MHz band at $4.576 billion. The spectrum at 2155-2180 MHz is in FCC hands and ready for auction.

It will be the largest amount of spectrum auctioned since the FCC's 2008 700 MHz auction.

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.