FCC banks nearly $45 billion in landmark AWS-3 spectrum auction

Windfall blows away pre-auction estimates

The FCC announced today that Auction 97 spectrum auction has closed after roughly two and a half months, with winning bids totaling $44.9 billion for the 65MHz of mostly AWS-3 range. That figure is far and away the highest ever seen in a spectrum auction.

The AWS-3 spectrum is called paired spectrum, which in this case sits between 1755MHz and 1780MHz for the uplink portion and 2155MHz and 2180MHz for the downlink. These frequency sets occupy a valuable middle ground for wireless carriers – they are high enough to provide plenty of potential capacity but low enough to propagate over a relatively large area for widespread coverage.

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Full information about the bidders has not yet been released, but it’s generally thought that AT&T and Verizon captured the lion’s share of the licenses available. More details will be provided when the results of the auction are officially finalized, and payment due dates are set.

The proceeds of the auction will go to various projects, including a $7 billion national emergency communication network, a $300 million investment in public safety communications research and a $115 million set of grants for improved 911 networks. Nearly half of the funds - $20 billion – will be applied to the federal government’s outstanding debts.

In a statement, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said that the results highlight the demand for additional spectrum availability, and looked forward to further auctions in the future.

“We are confident there will continue to be strong demand for valuable low-band spectrum that will be made available in the Incentive Auction early next year,” he said.

Fellow commissioner Mignon Clyburn noted that the results far outstripped early estimates of the auction’s total value.

“If you had conducted a poll of analysts before the start of the AWS-3 auction, the highest prediction given for its yield would not have exceeded $18 billion,” she said.

Others in Washington also lauded the results of Auction 97, as did representatives of the telecom industry.

Congressman Brett Guthrie, a Republican who co-chairs the Congressional Spectrum Caucus with Democrat Doris Matsui, called the auction “a resounding success,” in a statement. Guthrie and Matsui were co-sponsors of the legislation to reallocate the AWS-3 spectrum block and put it up for auction.

The president of the wireless trade association CTIA, Meredith Baker, echoed Wheeler in looking forward to additional spectrum being freed up and made available to the private sector.

“As we’ve highlighted many times before, this is only the first step to unlock more mobile investment and benefits,” she said. “A reinvigorated search to identify, clear and reallocate spectrum needs to begin today to meet the data demands of 2020, our connected lives and tomorrow’s 5G networks.”

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