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Spectrum-Auction Update: Martin Confirms Reaching of $10B Mark

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday that the FCC already topped $10 billion in spectrum-auction revenues after 18 rounds of bidding.

Five blocks of analog-TV spectrum are being reclaimed in the switch to digital and auctioned for advanced wireless services like broadband.

Each is being auctioned independently and each must meet a reserve price or be reauctioned. Martin said the $10 billion that has to be given to the treasury and toward funding other programs had been met with only three of the five blocks (A, B and C) having reached their reserve prices.

He added that the fact that the C block of 50 state licenses -- enough to create a national network --surpassed its $4.6 billion minimum (it stood at a bid of $4.713 billion after 19 rounds) meant that the open-access conditions the FCC put on the spectrum did not discourage bidding, as some had feared, and that there was a bidder willing to meet the buildout requirements on the spectrum and to make its network open to outside devices and applications.

As for the D block of spectrum -- which has been stuck at a $472 million bid since the first round, far below its $1.3 billion reserved price -- Martin said the auction wasn't over and he was still hopeful that someone would step up. That block is also sufficient for a national network, but it must be shared with first-responders.

Martin said that if all goes well, the winning bidders on all the blocks should be able to move in by Feb. 18, 2009, when broadcasters are required to vacate about 62 megahertz worth of spectrum in the 700-MHz block.

At press time, the auction total was a record $14.3 billion after 19 rounds, compared with a previous auction of 90 MHz of wireless spectrum that took 161 rounds to set the former record at $13.7 billion.

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.