T-Mobile revealed as largest bidder in $19.8bn FCC spectrum auction

18 April 2017 | James Pearce

Broadcasters will receive up to $10 billion as the Federal Communications Commission closed its 600MHz spectrum auction, with T-Mobile revealed as the biggest spender.

The Broadcast Incentive Auction saw 50 wireless carriers bid over $19.8 billion on 70MHz of spectrum, with Deutsche Telekom’s US arm T-Mobile leading the way with an $8 billion spend for 45% of available spectrum.

Dish Networks spent $6.2 billion for a quarter of the spectrum, while the third biggest spender was Comcast, who splashed out $1.7 billion. Sprint and Verizon did not participate in the auction at all, while AT&T spent just $910 million.

The auction was the largest the FCC has ever carried out for allocation under 1GHz and was split into several parts. In the first part, the regulator conducted a reverse auction allowing 175 TV broadcasters who own TV spectrum to sell it.

Phase two saw the FCC auction 70MHz of that spectrum to wireless carriers, raising $19.8 billion in bids.

The auction now enters its third stage, which will see broadcasters given a 39-month transition period to free up the spectrum. The final deadline for the 39-month post-auction transition period initiated is 13 July, 2020.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “The conclusion of the world’s first incentive auction is a major milestone in the FCC’s long history as steward of the nation’s airwaves. Consumers are the real beneficiaries, as broadcasters invest new resources in programming and service, and additional wireless spectrum opens the way to greater competition and innovation in the mobile broadband marketplace.” 

Overall 50 carriers bid on the spectrum auction. The bidding patterns highlight the growing need for cable providers to have some kind of wireless capability, with Comcast set to launch a mobile operation next year.

The FCC said the auction, which was authorised by Congress in 2012, will serve as a model for future US spectrum allocation.