Wireless Bids Hit $3.7B

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After the first two days of the Federal Communications Commission's auction of licenses in the 700-Megahertz band, the 214 registered bidders had anted up $3.7 billion. (See 5:4 with former FCC chief of staff Blair Levin on the spectrum auction, page 49.)

But it's not certain who, exactly, bid in those first four rounds for the airwaves, which are being returned by local TV broadcasters that are set to shut off their analog transmissions in February 2009.

The FCC is keeping the identities of the bidders secret until the end of the auction, which could last several weeks or even months.

Entities registered to participate include AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Google, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems, Qualcomm, EchoStar and Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital, which is the majority owner of Charter Communications.

The nationwide license for the biggest chunk of spectrum, known as the C block, drew an offer of $1.79 billion in the auction's fourth round.

JRPG analyst Jamie Townsend speculated that Google had made the first bid for the C block. The Internet giant lobbied for and won a condition from the FCC that requires the winner of that license to make its network “open” to any devices and applications if the price tops $4.6 billion.

“It remains way too early in the process to conclude much about where actual winning prices will be,” Townsend wrote in a research note. But, he added, the eventual total proceeds from the auction will likely be “at the lower end” of the $10 billion to $15 billion range JRPG previously forecast.