FCC Ends $19 Billion 700 MHz Auction

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has closed the 700 MHz auction, saying that the spectrum sell-off has raised the most money of any wireless auction yet held. (See 700 MHz Auction to End Soon?)

"The $19.592 billion generated by the auction nearly doubled congressional estimates of $10.2 billion," said FCC chief, Kevin Martin, in a statement. "All other 68 auctions conducted by the FCC in the past 15 years collectively generated a total of only $19.1 billion in receipts."

As Unstrung reported yesterday, however, the names of the spectrum winners may not be revealed for several weeks, although some information may be unveiled sooner. Major carriers AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless and search giant Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) are all seen as interested parties in the auctions. (See The 700 MHz Race .)

The overall bids for the 12 licenses in the C Block totaled $4.75 billion, collectively exceeding the reserve price of $4.6 billion, which triggers the FCC's "open access" rules on spectrum to kick in. This means that any operator using that spectrum has to allow any compatible device on the network and let users download any application over the bandwidth. (See 700 MHz Auctions Hit 'Open Access' Threshold.)

Verizon has already said that it will open up its CDMA network this year. The operator started to elucidate that process today with a developers conference in New York that is laying out the ground rules for open access devices. (See Verizon Tears Down the 'Walled Garden' .)

The overall provisionally winning bids on the A, B, and E block licenses also met their reserve prices with bids totaling $3.96 billion, $9.14 billion, and $1.27 billion, respectively. The only major block that didn't meet its reserve was the D block, which received a bid of $476 million, far short of the $1.3 billion reserve price. This is because bidders were leery of the public safety requirements that would compel them to build a nationwide network to public safety standards that could potentially be used by first responders.

"I believe the Commission remains committed to ensuring that we work to solve public safety’s interoperability challenges," says Martin in the statement. "Because the reserve price for the D Block was not met in the 700 MHz auction, the FCC is now evaluating its options for this spectrum."

The 700 MHz bandwidth is being freed up as broadcasters make the required move from analog to digital TV, which is mandated to happen by February 19, 2009. The FCC says the proceeds of the auction will be available to the U.S. Treasury by the end of June and will be used for public safety and digital television transition initiatives.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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