The spectrum auction that some have hoped might change the landscape of the U.S. wireless industry may not be all that disruptive after all.
The FCC said Friday that 62 bidders have made the upfront payments necessary to participate in the forward auction of TV broadcasters' airwaves, which is set to begin August 16. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Dish Network and Comcast are all among those on the final list.
But Social Capital Rama Spectrum Holdings, a small firm backed by investor Chamath Palihapitiya, is not.
Palihapitiya made headlines last fall when he said Rama intended to bid anywhere from $4 billion to $10 billion during the auction of 600 MHz in the hopes of taking on the incumbents. Rama was on an initial list of 99 qualifying bidders, but appears not to have followed through and made the necessary payments.
Palihapitiya declined to comment to questions from Recode, citing the FCC's quiet period.
The development is just the latest bit of bad news for those hoping for a spectacular bidding war pitting a small army of deep-pocketed outsiders against the three largest U.S. carriers for the airwaves. (Sprint, as expected, won't participate.) Similarly, Sinclair Broadcast Group has dropped out after not making the required payments, as Multichannel News noted.
Spectrum is the lifeblood of any mobile communications service, of course, and the wireless industry was awash in rumors over the last year that players such as Charter Communications, Google and Sprint parent SoftBank might bid in the forward auction. But Comcast and Dish Network are the only huge companies on the final bidding that could quickly prove disruptive.
Comcast is expected to spend somewhere in the range of $6 billion at auction, though – less than any of the three participating carriers – and Dish Network has yet to do anything meaningful to enter the market despite compiling a fortune in spectrum over the last several years. So while either could eventually prove disruptive, neither should be expected to aggressively take on the major carriers anytime soon regardless of the auction results.
Meanwhile, the FCC last month set the clearing cost for the airwaves at a staggering $86.4 billion. That price must be met by carriers and would-be wireless service providers must pay in aggregate to acquire spectrum licenses during the forward auction. Analysts agree that bidders are highly unlikely to commit to that amount, though, so the FCC may have to reduce the amount of spectrum it will free up for wireless use, resuming bidding with TV broadcasters in the reverse auction where it ended during the previous stage. That scenario may have become even more likely given the final list of bidders.
- see the FCC's final list of qualified bidders (pdf)
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