Reverse auction of 600 MHz spectrum could end this week: BTIG

The "reverse" portion of the FCC's incentive auction of 600 MHz spectrum could end this week, BTIG Research reported. And that will trigger the FCC's disclosure of the amount of money bidders in the forward auction must spend to end the event.

The commission has spent the last several weeks holding its "reverse auction" to free up airwaves from TV broadcasters and make them available for wireless use. The FCC starts with the highest possible price it will pay broadcasters for specific blocks, methodically lowering prices per round until it obtains enough spectrum at the lowest possible price.

The commission will then disclose the amount of money that must be generated during the forward auction by companies looking to acquire those licenses. If that figure isn't met during the forward auction, the FCC will have to start over by going back to the broadcasters, reducing the amount of spectrum it hopes to free up for wireless use, and holding another reverse auction.

As expected, the FCC has released almost no information regarding the reverse auction, and broadcasters who drop out of the proceedings aren't permitted to say so publicly during the event. So the amount of money that must be met during the forward auction – which BTIG calls "the bogey" – will be the first meaningful data point available to the public.

"Expectations for the initial bogey in Stage 1 are all over the map and we have not offered our own," Walter Piecyk of BTIG wrote this morning. "Conversely, consensus for the forward auction appears to remain around $30 billion."

That figure would mark a "low and clearable" bogey, Piecyk suggested. But a substantially higher figure -- $50 billion, say, or even $70 billion – could stoke fears that the auction could drag through additional rounds, perhaps even extending into 2017. "It could also rally broadcasting stocks as investors prematurely and likely incorrectly conclude that they will be able to hold out for very high prices," Piecyk wrote.

The forward auction is scheduled to begin two days after the reverse auction comes to a close. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are each expected to spend billions on new airwaves – Sprint is sitting out – and Comcast and a handful of others are likely to participate as they vie for position to enter the wireless market.

For more:
- see this BTIG blog post (registration required)

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