700MHz auction update: High bids total $3.2 billion

After a day and a half of bidding the high bids total is far short of the $10 billion Congress and the FCC expect to raise in the auction of wireless spectrum licenses

The high bids totalled $3.2 billion in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's auction of wireless spectrum licenses in the 700MHz band after three rounds and a day and a half of bidding.

That figure is far short of the $10 billion Congress and the FCC expect to raise in the auction, which opened Thursday, but bidding could continue for weeks. In most cases, the high bids don't yet meet the FCC's reserve price set for minimum winning bids.

A fourth round of bidding will happen Friday afternoon.

The 700MHz auctions represent the last large chunk of spectrum available for the FCC to auction in the foreseeable future. The spectrum, now used to carry over-the-air television signals, can be used to carry long-range wireless broadband traffic. Consumer groups have said the spectrum represents the "last, best hope" for a nationwide wireless broadband network that competes with cable and telecom broadband services.

For sale is 62MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band. In late 2005, after a decade of debate, Congress passed a law requiring U.S. TV stations to move to all-digital broadcasts and abandon analog spectrum between channels 52 and 69. The deadline for TV stations to end broadcasts in the 700MHz band is February 2009.

After three rounds, 906 of the 1,099 available spectrum licenses had bids, with four more licenses receiving bids than at the end of round two late Thursday. High bids had totalled just under $2.8 billion after round 2, and just over $2.4 billion after round one Thursday morning.

The top bid after the third round was $1.49 billion for eight of 12 regional licenses in the C block, a 22MHz block of spectrum covering all 50 states. The bidding for those C block licenses was up from $1.24 billion at the end of the second round. The FCC's reserve price for the C block is $4.6 billion, and the winning bidders of C block spectrum must allow any legal devices to connect to their network, including mobile phones purchased from other carriers.

The second highest bid remained $472 million for the D block, a nationwide 10MHz chunk of spectrum to be paired with another 10MHz set aside for public safety agencies. The bidder of the D block would be required to build a national network to be jointly used by public safety agencies and commercial customers. The high bid for the D block has remained unchanged since round one.

Bidding in the auction is anonymous.

The A block, a 12MHz piece of spectrum covering parts of New York and the northeastern U.S., also generated interest. The high bid was $119.8 million after the third round, up from $100 million after the second round and $83.2 million after the first round. A similar chunk of spectrum in the E block, also covering the same area, has generated a high bid of $59.9 million after the third round.

The high bid for a 12MHz block called the B block, for a local New York City license, stood at $85.6 million after rounds two and three.

High bids for five blocks in the Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., areas were between $28 million and $55 million after round three.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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