Incentive auction passes $19B as bidding heats up—slightly

gavel auction
More rounds are still expected in the 600 MHz incentive auction.

The incentive auction of 600 MHz spectrum passed the $19 billion mark late Wednesday and continued this morning as bidding heated up—slightly, at least—after the FCC moved earlier this week to bump incremental price increases for each round.

Bidders had committed $19.08 billion as the 27th round of bidding opened at mid-day Thursday. The action—what there is of it, anyway—continued to focus on smaller markets, while the top 40 markets appear to have been settled.

The FCC yesterday began increasing the price of spectrum by 10 percent per round, up from 5 percent, in an effort to spur activity. And the move seems to have worked, at least briefly: Rounds 20 and 21 produced sizable jumps of $75 million and $73 million, respectively, as Broadcasting & Cable reported.

The action seems to have slowed in the last few rounds, although three rounds are still slated for today, and a full schedule of four rounds are expected Friday. At stake is 70 MHz of spectrum divided into seven 10 MHz blocks in each market.

The auction met both components of the “Final Stage Rule” earlier this 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 event won’t end there, however. An assignment phase will follow during which bidders will negotiate for specific blocks of spectrum in each market they’ve been awarded airwaves. That’s likely to last “several weeks,” according to BTIG Research, and the FCC must issue a Channel Reassignment Public Notice detailing the repacking process before winners can be announced.

BTIG predicts 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.