FCC ups bidding rounds as incentive auction tops $19.45B

gavel auction
The auction met both components of the “Final Stage Rule” last month, eliminating the need to return to TV broadcasters a fifth time to negotiate for their airwaves. So the forward auction could end any day.

The FCC once again increased the number of rounds per day to spur action as bidding in the incentive auction approached the $19.5 billion mark.

Bidders had committed to spend $19.45 billion on TV broadcasters’ airwaves by the end of round 38 in Stage 4 of the auction this morning, marking an increase of $18.9 million over the previous round. Four one-hour rounds will be held again today; tomorrow the auction will move to six 40-minute rounds in an effort to speed up bidding as the event nears completion.

Bidders are vying for 70 MHz of spectrum divided into seven 10 MHz blocks in each market. The auction met both components of the “Final Stage Rule” last month, eliminating the need to return to TV broadcasters a fifth time to negotiate for their airwaves. So the forward auction could end any day.

The auction last week became the FCC’s second-biggest spectrum sell-off in terms of revenue behind the AWS-3 auction that ended in January 2015 after generating nearly $45 billion in bids, as Broadcasting & Cable noted. But the ongoing auction of 600 MHz airwaves has largely been viewed as a disappointment: TV broadcasters had set an initial clearing cost at a staggering $86.4 billion for 126 MHz at the outset of the incentive auction last May, but that figure was lowered dramatically—as was the amount of spectrum made available—in subsequent rounds.

Stages 2 and 3 lasted only a single round, in fact, indicating that carriers and would-be wireless service providers may be less interested in 600 MHz than they once were. TV broadcasters set a clearing cost last week of just more than $10 billion for up to 84 MHz of airwaves, falling far short of the $40.3 billion set in Stage 3.

The forward auction will be followed by an assignment phase that could last several weeks as bidders haggle over specific spectrum blocks in the markets in which they’ve been awarded airwaves. The FCC must also issue a Channel Reassignment Public Notice detailing the repacking process before winners can be announced.

BTIG predicted the names of winning bidders will be released around March 1, and the anti-collusion period could end roughly two weeks later, enabling bidders to once again negotiate deals involving spectrum.

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