Sped-Up AWS-3 Auction Motors Past $41B

After three rounds of the FCC's new six half-hour-round bidding schedule, the AWS-3 spectrum auction has passed $41 billion ($41,026,521,500). There were 91 new bids in the most recent round (52) and $90,015,100 in new bids.

The auction is in day 14 (it began Nov. 13) with 65 MHz of spectrum (1,614 geographic licenses) up for bid in the 1695-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands.

There are 70 qualified bidders, the largest being AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile—Sprint sat it out.

The auction has blown by its $10.587 reserve price and the $15-$16 billion pre-auction estimates of some to be by far the largest-ever spectrum auction take, though the bids are provisional until the winners fill out the paperwork, put up the balance of the money and any objections to the auction are vetted.

The Telecommunications Industry Association added Thursday its applause for the auctions runaway success.

"The FCC's ongoing AWS-3 spectrum auction is an historic event for several reasons. First, gross bids have passed the $40 billion mark, doubling or even tripling most analyst estimates, and exceeding any other spectrum auction in U.S. history," said TIA CEO Scott Belcher in a statement. "The level of bidding demonstrates that the spectrum crunch is very real, and that more work is needed to keep pace with exploding consumer demand for mobile broadband.

"The bidding also highlights the need for the FCC to conduct a successful voluntary incentive auction for broadcast spectrum in 2016. To be successful, the FCC will need to encourage maximum participation from broadcasters in the top 10 markets where demand is greatest."

Perhaps, but the success of the AWS-3 auction arguably takes financial pressure off the incentive auction to pay for a first responder broadband network, which was a recommendation of the 9/11 commission following attacks now more than a dozen years in the past.

TIA recognized that AWS-3 would be paying for that network, as well as E-911 and R&D, but also pointed to the "real benefit" of freeing up spectrum for broadband.

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.