FCC closes 700MHz spectrum auction

FCC failed to sell off a swath of spectrum that was set aside for a public safety network and has not revealed which companies won the rights to the bands that were sold

The controversial 700MHz spectrum auction has closed, raising $19.59 billion, a record for a spectrum auction in the United States, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday.

The FCC, however, failed to sell off a swath of spectrum that was set aside for a public safety network. That block did not receive a bid that met the FCC's $1.3 billion reserve price. The agency is evaluating its options for the spectrum, it said.

The 700MHz auction was the first to require anonymous bidding, and the FCC has not yet revealed which companies won the rights to the bands that were sold. While Google was instrumental in pushing the so-called open-access rules for the auction, it is still unknown if the search giant bid for or won any of the licenses.

The open-access rules, which apply to one-third of the spectrum, require operators to allow customers to use any device they want, and download and use any applications.

The auction lasted for 38 days and 261 rounds of bidding. Throughout, onlookers wondered if the public safety block would sell. Frontline Wireless, a company headed by a former FCC commissioner and other wireless industry veterans, was expected to take the lead in bidding for the spectrum, but the company abruptly shut down just weeks before the start of the auction.

The winnings from the auction will go to the U.S. Treasury and are earmarked for support for public safety and digital television transition initiatives.

Winners of FCC auctions earn the right to build wireless networks that operate in the given spectrum band. The 700MHz band has been used by television broadcasters, but it is becoming available with the switch to digital television broadcasting. The spectrum is considered ideal for cellular applications because wireless signals sent over the band can travel long distances, requiring operators to deploy less network equipment than in higher-spectrum bands.

The 700MHz band is also one of the last broad bands of spectrum available for cellular services, another reason this auction has been so closely watched. Companies such as Google and others pushed for the open-access rules in the hope that the winners would build new networks that support innovative mobile data services to compete with the incumbent mobile network services.

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