Incentive auction crawls past $18.67B in bids

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The FCC upped the incremental price increase per round to spur slowing bidding in the incentive auction.

The FCC will bump up the incremental price increase for each round of bidding in its latest move to spur activity that has slowed to a crawl in recent days. Beginning Wednesday, the agency will increase the price of spectrum by 10% per round, up from 5%.

Bidders committed another $21 million for the spectrum in round 17 of Stage 4 of the auction Monday, raising the overall bidding to roughly $18.67 billion. Recent activity has centered on smaller markets, while activity in major cities seem to have been settled. The auction ends only when no bidding occurs in any market.

The FCC’s move is meant to address bidding that BTIG Research described last week as “anemic.”

BTIG said last week that it expects the quiet period to continue through the end of March, two weeks later than its previous forecast.

“As you can see, the ripple effect of this action pushes the end of the anti-collusion period to March 31,” which had been BTIG’s previous estimate, Walter Piecyk of BTIG wrote in a company blog post (reg. req.). “That will not be welcome news for an industry that has been unable to discuss strategic transactions for over a year and now operates under an administration many believe, rightly or wrongly, that anything goes.”

And while carriers and would-be service providers must remain mum, TV broadcasters are asking the FCC to allow them to discuss spectrum deals now that they’re done negotiating prices in the ongoing incentive auction.

The so-called quiet period for the auction was set in place a year ago, preventing participants—both TV broadcasters looking to sell their spectrum and companies looking to acquire them for wireless use—from talking about the airwaves at stake. But two weeks ago, the event met two criteria that ensured the event won’t see a fifth reverse auction during which broadcasters would have once again haggled over the price of their spectrum.

The broadcasters asked the FCC to lift the quiet period for them, TVTechnology reported, because their role in the auction is complete.

“The Commission can provide much-needed relief to broadcasters simply by clarifying that nothing a broadcaster says about the reverse auction at this point would violate the prohibition on certain auction-related communications,” the broadcasters lobbied in an FCC filing. “The agency previously explained that ‘the rules prohibiting certain communications are limited in scope and only prohibit disclosure of information that affects, or has the potential to affect, bids and bidding strategies.’ Moreover, given that the FCC has publicly released the reverse auction clearing target and all of the licenses in the forward auction are unimpaired, there is no risk of ‘dangerous and anti-competitive information asymmetries’ among forward auction bidders.’”