FCC's Spectrum Forward Auction Begins Tuesday

Wireless companies get crack at beachfront broadcast spectrum

The forward portion of the FCC's spectrum auction begins Tuesday (Aug. 16), with the FCC hoping wireless companies step up to the plate.

In the forward auction, wireless companies and others will bid for broadcast spectrum reclaimed in the reverse auction, which ended June 29. The FCC will need to get a little over $88 billion from forward auction bidders for the 100 MHz of spectrum (26 of the 126 MHz clearing target is for guard bands) reclaimed from broadcasters, to whom it has pledged $86,422,558,704 (the other $1.957 billion or so is for auction expenses and post-auction TV station repacking costs).

The FCC authorized 62 bidders in the forward auction, including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Dish and T-Mobile.

First-day bidding will consist of one six-hour round beginning at 10 a.m. and extending through 4 p.m. Two two-hour rounds will be the order of the day beginning Wednesday, Aug. 17, and until further notice.

The FCC has divided up that beachfront broadcast spectrum—its propagation characteristics make it particularly valuable for wireless broadband—into 416 partial economic areas (PEAs), the geographic areas in which it is offering the spectrum licenses being bid for.

After a round closes, the FCC will post some information publicly on the progress of bidding toward meeting the "final stage rule," as well as the progress in each geographic area, plus new clock prices being asked—the bidding is in "clock" rounds, with bidders having to meet an escalating FCC price point for the spectrum they have signaled they want.

If past is prologue, the bidding could take several months—some wireless carriers are already seeking a couple of breaks in September.

If the FCC does not cover the $88 billion-plus it will need to successfully close the auction, it will return to the reverse stage and reduce the clearing target from 126 MHz and continue the reverse auction, which would almost certainly push the auction into early 2017.

Related: Spectrum Auction Likely to See Multiple Rounds

The FCC has nine separate clearing targets for an auction that was always planned for multiple rounds, depending on how the marketplace decides to value the spectrum.