Spectrum Auction Cracks $19 Billion

Bidding continues in some smaller markets

Stage 4 of the forward portion of the FCC's spectrum auction pushed past the $19 billion mark in round 24 Wednesday, with bidders offering up $19,006,009,428 in that round, up about $30 million from $18,970,686,415, then adding another $38 million to $19,038,558,451 in round 25.

Broadcasters won't be getting any of the excess beyond their $10 billion payout, but the Treasury will be, after the FCC deducts $1.9 billion for auction expenses and a $1.75 billion transition fund for broadcasters repacking into smaller spectrum space after the auction.

The auction has already met its two key clearing targets and broadcasters already know how much they are getting: About $10 billion, so the auction will end at the end of the current forward auction stage. The difference between that $10 billion payout, plus $1.9 billion for auction expenses and TV station post-auction relocation, will go to the Treasury.

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The auction can't close until there is no more bidding in any of the 416 markets, which is not yet the case. For example, in round 22 there was more demand than supply in a number of smaller (below the top 40) markets, including Texarkana. Tex., and Wheeling, W. Va.

The FCC is making 70 MHz of spectrum available, divided into seven 10 MHz blocks in each market thanks to broadcasters' giving up 84 MHz of their spectrum (14 of which goes to guard bands so is not up for bid).

The forward auction is a clock auction in which the FCC raises the price in each round until demand does not exceed supply in each round.

At that point the auction will close and a second auction will be held among winning bidders to assign specific frequencies.