Bidders remain silent as Stage 3 of incentive auction ends after 1 round, total drops to $19.7B

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Bidders in the FCC’s ongoing incentive auction of TV broadcasters’ unwanted spectrum continued to show little interest in the proceeding, with Stage 3 of the forward portion of the event ending after one round and total bids declining to $19,676,240,520.

Critics blasted the event as a “joke,” with bidders—including the likes of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Comcast and others—continuing to show little interest in raising their bids for TV broadcasters’ spectrum.

"This is not an auction. It is a joke and an abuse of the broadcasters, the FCC and the public, who will be put through a disruptive repacking process that increasingly looks unjustified. The question is why the carriers lobbied so hard for a statute to authorize an auction of spectrum they don't want. The carriers now have twice walked away from blocks of spectrum they told Congress was ‘vital’ and for which they predicted bidding as high as $48 billion,” said Preston Padden, a television consultant, in a statement to media.

Padden previously served as the executive director of the now-disbanded Expanding Opportunities For Broadcasters Coalition. The Coalition was created to help shape the rules for the FCC spectrum incentive auction and work to encourage TV broadcasters to participate, but it disbanded last year to avoid running afoul of anti-collusion rules.

Padden argued at the time that the group had met its goals.

CTIA, the trade group for the wireless industry, declined to comment on Padden's statement.

Stage 3 today ended lower than Stage 2 ($21.5 billion) did several weeks ago because the FCC reduced the amount of spectrum available in the auction. And since no bidders increased their bids during Stage 3, the overall amount of the auction decreased. Details of the bidding, including which bidders bid on what spectrum, will not be disclosed until the event is over.

"The relatively quick completion of the third stage of the forward auction comes as no surprise given pre-auction indications from potential purchasers and the current state of the mobile industry in the United States," Dan Hays, a principal at consulting firm PwC, said in a statement. "Despite strong commitments to date from buyers in the forward auction, top-line proceeds may struggle to make it north of $20 billion as operators' capital spending priorities have seemingly shifted away from spectrum at this time."

Communications Daily’s Jonathan Make noted that wireless companies bid 49% of what they'd need to end the auction during the forward portion of Stage 3.

The commission completed the third stage of the reverse auction last week, setting a target price of $40.3 billion for 108 MHz of broadcasters’ spectrum that would free up 80 MHz for wireless use.

Bidders during the forward portion of Stage 3 Monday needed to meet that $40.3 billion price target in the third round to end the auction. Now the FCC will again lower the amount of spectrum available and return to TV broadcasters to set a lower clearing cost in a fourth stage, which likely will be held next week, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

The publication also noted the next target is 84 MHz of total spectrum.

"It is clear is that the next stage of the auction will need to continue to peel back the cost of broadcaster' spectrum. With a more dramatic, 24 MHz drop in demand - from 108 MHz in the third stage to just 84 MHz in the upcoming fourth stage, a significant reduction in the cost to clear broadcasters is likely, bringing the auction to a close after the start of the new year," PwC's Hays added.