Ina Fried

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FCC Schedules First Major Spectrum Auction in More Than Five Years

The Federal Communications Commission announced that in January it will hold its first significant spectrum auction in more than five years.


Image copyright Erick Margarita Images

The commission said that it will auction off a 10MHz portion of nationwide spectrum known as the PCS H block on Jan. 14, setting a minimum price of $1.56 billion. Some of the proceeds will go toward creating a mobile network for police, fire and other first responders.

“I am pleased that the FCC is moving expeditiously to implement Congress’s direction to auction this spectrum,” acting commission chair Mignon Clyburn said in a statement. “This will be the first major spectrum auction since 2008, and will help close the spectrum gap as well as contributing to the goal of making mobile broadband available to our nation’s first responders.”

CTIA-The Wireless Association, the cellphone industry trade group, praised the move.

“We are pleased that the Commission is moving to make the H block available and hope its auction will be the first of several over the next few years,” CTIA vice president of government affairs Jot Carpenter said in a statement. “There’s a lot more work to be done, but today’s announcement is a welcome step forward.”

Update: While there is pretty uniform agreement that more wireless spectrum, not all agree it makes sense to auction the H block by itself, arguing there would be more interest were it paired with other spectrum, even if that meant holding off to an auction later in the year.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel had pushed for that approach, though the majority of the commission opted to auction the H block first.

“Holding a single auction of all 65 megahertz at once is bound to yield more interest, more bidders, and more revenue than dividing this spectrum up and holding an auction of the 10 megahertz H block alone,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “As Wall Street analysts have noted, splitting this spectrum up for auction will likely limit interest in the H block to only one, or possibly two bidders.”

That, Rosenworcel said, would be more of a sale than an auction and lead to less revenue to fund the first responder network.

“I understand and respect that my colleagues feel differently,” she said. “I sincerely hope that the approach announced today does not fall short and miss the mark.”

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