700 MHz Auction: Bidders take a breather on open-access block

For the first time in six rounds, no one bid on the open-access C block in Auction 73. After attracting a single bid in every round bringing the price up to $2.15 billion, the unnamed bidders competing for the large block of commercial spectrum stepped back in round 6, drawing intoquestion thedemandforthenationwide blockthat would support the country’s first government-mandated open-access network. (For the full bidding results see the FCC’s Auction 73 page)

The rest of the auction continued to chug along, bringing the grand bidding total to $4.4 billion. The same battles we reported last week for market and regional licenses centered in New York and Los Angeles continued to rage. And after garneringa single bid in the first round, the D-block shared public safety/private spectrum continues to be ignored — not so much as a tick upwards from its starting $472 million price since the opening.

The C block is considered some of the valuable spectrum in the auction, and is likely attracting the interest of Verizon Wireless and AT&T, both of whom are eyeballing those frequencies for future 4G deployments. The wild card is Google, which may not be as interested in winning the nationwide broadband licenseas it is in ensuring that the open access provisions of the license remain intact. For open-access to be assured, the C block has to be won as a nationwide package at the reserve price of $4.6 billion or more.

The auction still has many more days to go, and even though there was no activity in round 6 for either the C or D blocks, 968 new bids were submitted on other licenses,indicating the auction still has plenty of life left. The danger is that if new bids on the C-block nationwide package fail to materialize, then the package will split into its 8 component regional licenses, which ecompass broadareas like the Northeast or the Great Lakes. Auction participants have been bidding separately on those 8 licenses, and so far the total bids have reached $1.96 billion, still $119 million shy of what the overall 50-state package has been bid up to. But even interest in the regional licenses have waned. All of the bidders for two of the regions — the Southeast and Central regions — have already dropped out, returning the bid totals for those licenses to $0.

Round 7 closes at 2 PM ET.

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