The FCC’s incentive auction of 600 MHz spectrum will pick up again on Monday after taking a break for Inauguration Day. But it almost certainly won’t last much longer.
Forward bidders in Stage 4 of the auction continued to up the ante on Thursday, committing another $91 million to acquire 70 MHz of airwaves from TV broadcasters in round three. Bidders met both components of the “Final Stage Rule” during the second round of forward bidding in Stage 4 Wednesday afternoon, with total proceeds of $18.2 billion, far surpassing TV broadcasters’ asking price of $10 billion.
The spectrum price also increased to $1.257 per MHz/pop Wednesday, topping $1.25 per MHz/pop in the top 40 markets, which is the second criterion for allowing the auction to end. Exactly how long bidding will continue, though, still isn’t clear.
Walter Piecyk of BTIG Research predicted earlier this week that Stage 4 of the auction will end next Friday, and he told FierceWireless this morning that timeline remained in place following Thursday’s bidding. But the entire event may drag into March: An assignment phase is likely to last several weeks as bidders select specific blocks in the markets they’ve won, and the FCC must issue a Channel Reassignment Public Notice detailing the repacking process before winners can be announced.
BTIG predicted that the names of winning bidders will be released around March 1, and the anticollusion period could end roughly two weeks later, enabling bidders to once again negotiate deals involving spectrum.
For the next few weeks, then, investors and analysts will continue to speculate about which companies will be awarded various amounts of spectrum in key markets. AT&T and T-Mobile are widely expected to be active bidders, and AT&T is also eligible to participate. (Sprint opted not to apply for the auction.) Meanwhile, would-be wireless service providers—most likely Comcast and Dish Network—may be looking to compile spectrum as they plot an entry into the wireless market.
“If T-Mobile and AT&T both purchased a 20 MHz nationwide spectrum position, consistent within the eligibility of their upfront payments, it would result in $10.8 billion of bids,” Piecyk wrote. “If that scenario took place, it would leave $7.4 billion for remaining bidders. So who could that be?”
It’s likely to be at least a month before we learn the answer to that question.