FCC moves to more and shorter rounds to speed closure

The FCC Monday moved to goose the 28 GHz spectrum auction, moving to six, half-hour rounds per day from the four, hour-long rounds that had been the case since Nov. 20 (the auction launched Nov. 14 with three rounds per day of an hour each).

The FCC traditionally shortens and adds rounds as auction bidding winds down.

The new money bid per round on the Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service licenses increased from only $6,200 in Monday's first round (97) to $9,100 in round 98, $22,290 in round 99, and $76,650 in round 100.

There were only nine new bids in round 100 across the 2,938 licenses for which there are provisional winning bids, down from 14 new bids in round 99 and leaving the FCC with 134 licenses for which there were no bids.

Currently, $690,399,330 has been bid in total for those 2,938 licenses. 

Given that bidders have to increase their bids each round or risk losing the ability to bid in further rounds, that suggests bidding is close to being over, though the FCC will not reveal who won which licenses until it has completed the 24 GHz auction scheduled to begin as soon as the 28 GHz auction ends. 

FCC spokespeople were unavailable for comment, and in fact can't comment on anything except the government shutdown during the government shutdown, according to a chief FCC spokesperson last week before having to head home with other furloughed staffers.

While most FCC operations are shuttered during the shutdown, there is money in a separate bucket for auction staffers and contractors, so the auction is continuing.

There are 40 qualified bidders competing for the 28 GHz spectrum, including Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, but none of the major cable operators eyeing wireless plays—though Cox is signed up for the 24 GHz auction.

The FCC concedes it has never pushed so much spectrum into the market at one time before, which could mean those lower prices, but the point is to get the spectrum out there "fast" given that wireless carriers have been talking up the need for speed and bandwidth for an internet of everything, 5G world.

The 28 GHz licenses are relatively small (county sized), collectively reach only 25% of the population—so more rural areas—and are in a band with incumbent users to navigate, so the prices are not in the same ballpark as the broadcast incentive auction ($19 billion) or the AWS-3 auction (almost $45 billion), which both featured broad swaths of contiguous spectrum, in the case of the incentive auction after broadcasters were incentivized to move. 

But the FCC's goal in the 28GHz auction is to get as much spectrum into the pipeline as possible for wireless broadband to help the U.S. win the race to next-gen 5G service and boost competition to wired carriers.

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