700 MHz Auction: 210 rounds and counting

Anyone who thought the current sorry state of economic affairs in the U.S. would produce an equally sorry Auction 73 can toss those doubts outside. Though all excitement surrounding the auction dissipated weeks ago, it’s kept chugging along, entering its 210th round today, raising $19.6 billion, and beating 2006’s AWS auction handily on both counts. Auction 66 raised $13.9 billion and went 161 rounds. Despite the 700 MHz auction’s longevity, it’s bound to wrap up soon (you’ve heard us say that before…). 

The auction is attracting merely a handful of new bids each round, centered primarily on five tiny B-block regional licenses in towns most of us haven’t heard of and the regional E-block license covering American Samoa. (For full auction results see the FCC’s Auction 73 page.) So while Indy operators fight it out over Yuba City, Calif.; Ashtabula, Ohio; and territories across the Pacific, we have to sit back and wait to see who the big winners (and losers) are. All action in the C-block stopped in Round 30 when the aggregate bids for the block’s component regions exceeded the bid total for the nationwide block. But really the C-block contest was over rounds before when someone–most likely Verizon Wireless–pushed the C-block bids past the FCC’s $4.6 billion open-access threshold, ensuring whomever wins those licenses must allow other service providers onto their network.

And then there’s the D-block. Bidding for that shared public safety/commercial band ended in round one, when it received it’s sole bid of $472 million, far from the FCC’s reserve price. All of the other blocks have met their reserves, and the D block’s exception could add an even longer waiting periodto the end of a long auction, depending on whether the FCC decides to re-auction the spectrum immediately or peel it off from the rest of the results. If the FCC goes the former route it may be longer after CTIA Wireless before we learn who the winners are. That could make things awfully interesting for vendors: they wouldn’t know whom to market their new 700 MHz gear to.

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