T-Mobile, Dish and Comcast top bidders in incentive auction while Verizon looks on

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The FCC's incentive auction of 600 MHz spectrum garnered $19.8 billion.

T-Mobile was the top bidder in the FCC’s incentive auction, agreeing to pony up nearly $8 billion to acquire 600 MHz spectrum. And the nation’s largest carrier was nowhere to be seen.

Dish Network, which already sits atop a pile of mid-range spectrum and has announced its intentions to build an NB-IoT network, was the second-biggest bidder, committing $6.2 billion. Comcast, which recently outlined plans to deploy its own wireless service, will spend $1.7 billion.

T-Mobile executives have said previously they hope to put some of the 600 MHz airwaves to use as soon as this year.

Verizon declined to bid despite having qualified for the auction, and AT&T will spend only $910 million. Sprint had declined to participate from the outset.

AT&T has moved aggressively to shore up its spectrum assets in recent months, and will get access to additional low-band spectrum after winning the right to build the first U.S. network dedicated to first responders. Verizon added a significant chunk of millimeter-wave spectrum last year through a transaction with XO Communications.

Fifty bidders will walk away with the airwaves from 175 TV stations, which will pocket $10.05 billion for their spectrum. Bidders committed to spend $19.8 billion to make those airwaves available for wireless use, marking the second-largest auction in FCC history.

“There are three big surprises here,” analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson said in a brief note to investors. “Comcast bought less than expected, Dish Network bought more, and Verizon bought nothing at all.”