Wireless Trumps Television: FCC Incentive Auctions of the TV Spectrum

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By Sam Hampton

Responding to novel technological needs and market forces, the FCC has developed a program of incentive auctions. The agency is working to allocate more spectrum to wireless broadband services. The 2010 National Broadband Plan introduced the incentive auction as a voluntary, market-driven system to efficiently allocate the spectrum in a new technological climate; the plan was given congressional authorization in 2012. The FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in September 2012, detailing proposed procedures for these incentive auctions; rules were adopted in May 2014.

The first auction under the new rule regime was Auction 97, which concluded in late January 2015. The auctioned licenses were for the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS-3) spectrum, covering the 1700MHz and 2100MHz blocks. Auction 97 set revenue records; gross bids for the auction totaled nearly $44.9 billion on over 1600 licenses. Furthermore, just 31 bidders purchased these licenses, principally wireless carriers such as AT&T, which alone bid nearly $18.2 billion. The resulting revenue was more than double the previous auction of the 700MHz auction, which took place in 2008. Continue reading