Incentive auction draws more than $1B in rounds three and four, surpasses $10B overall

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The FCC’s incentive auction of 600 MHz airwaves drew more than $1 billion in bids in its third and fourth rounds combined, boosting the event’s proceeds to more than $10 billion so far.

The latest round of bidding in the first stage of the forward auction illustrated strong ongoing demand for TV broadcasters’ airwaves in major markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago after the FCC raised its prices by 5 percent, as it does after each round. But interest began to wane in some smaller markets during the third round, Roger Entner of Recon Analytics observed.

“What is surprising is how quickly demand is falling off and we are only in Round 3. As prices increased the aggregate demand in San Francisco dropped from 29 to 19 licenses,” Entner told FierceWireless via email after the third round ended Wednesday afternoon. “Even in a tech center like Seattle, there was less demand for licenses than what was available. After Round 3, even places like Minneapolis, Denver, Las Vegas, Portland and many more places have still less demand than there are licenses.”

The forward auction of the FCC’s two-part event kicked off Tuesday, when bidders offered $8.5 billion for some of the spectrum. A second round Wednesday morning garnered $500 million more.

The Commission hopes to auction off 100 MHz of the low-band spectrum during the forward auction, which follows a reverse auction that saw the FCC negotiate to buy the airwaves from TV broadcasters willing to sell. Bidders must pony up slightly more than $88 billion during the first stage to end the auction; if that figure isn’t met the FCC will reduce the amount of spectrum it will free up and resume bidding with TV broadcasters in the reverse auction in a second stage of the auction.

The FCC discloses market-by-market bidding activity during the forward auction, but it doesn’t disclose the identity of the bidders. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are all expected to spend billions at auction, while Sprint opted out. Other major bidders include Dish Network and Comcast.

Analysts generally agree that the auction is unlikely to generate the minimum amount to cover the costs of the auction and pay TV broadcasters for their spectrum. So the event could take months to complete and may drag into next year if multiple stages are required during which the FCC would go back and forth between broadcasters and bidders.

“Even at these low prices bidders are not rushing in,” Entner said. “It's not clear if bidders don't bother because the target dollar amount is just so ridiculously high or if there is no interest at all. Let’s all hope it is the former rather than the latter. We will find out when we go back to the reverse auction and clear with a lower target.”

For more:
- see the FCC’s auction dashboard

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First two rounds of forward auction of 600 MHz airwaves draws over $9B in bids
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