700 MHz Auction Closes with $19.6 Billion in Bidding

The FCC’s auction for the 700 MHz block of the wireless spectrum closed today, with bids totaling $19.592 billion.

The revenue “raised in the 700 MHz auction is significantly more than raised in any past FCC auction,” said the FCC in a press release (PDF) posted to its web site. The amount, which surpassed the 2006 Advanced Wireless Service-1 Auction’s revenue of $13.9 billion, nearly doubled congressional estimates.

“All other 68 auctions conducted by the FCC in the past 15 years collectively generated a total of only $19.1 billion in receipts,” reads the release.

Spectrum winners were not immediately announced, as the FCC is expected to disclose winners in the next few days pending final details.

The 700 MHz block of frequencies, which many consider the last great frontier in the wireless spectrum, was the subject of considerable debate this past year with Google’s insistence on an open platform. The FCC obliged Google’s request – somewhat – and set an additional condition on upper-half “C block” bands that require the winner to allow open access to its network, allowing consumers a choice in devices they connect with. Incumbent wireless carriers accepted the new requirement reluctantly – but not before filing lawsuits – and Google eventually made good on its promise to ensure open access by meeting the $4.6 billion reserve. The upper-half C block eventually closed for a high bid of $4.7 billion, and analysts believe Verizon Wireless to be the winner.

While currently held by analog TV stations, the 700 MHz band will be vacated next year as Congress transitions the nation to digital TV in early 2009.

Not all the of the 700 MHz block was sold, however: the “D” block, which is purposed for both commercial and public safety wireless service in a unique dual configuration, failed to meet its $1.3 billion reserve as it gathered only a single $472 million bid. The FCC said it is now evaluating its options with the D block and the seven other licenses that did not sell, presumably for inclusion in a future auction.

Auction winners will need to pay for their winnings in full by June 30, 2008, and proceeds will be used to “support public safety and digital television transition (DTV) initiatives.”