Pay TV operators pass on spectrum licenses

When the bidding began last month, predictions were that major cable and satellite TV providers might take over major portions of wireless spectrums after an FCC auction. Now, unless there are unforeseen developments, that probably won't happen.

As the auction approaches an end, it appears that most pay TV bidders have retreated, and the usual suspects — the nation's largest mobile telephone service providers — will win most of the 1122 licenses being sold.

However, cable companies including Time Warner and Comcast have teamed up with Sprint Nextel to bid about $2.3 billion on spectrums to expand their limited presence in the wireless business. It is expected that the cable operators will use the spectrums for wireless Web services.

As of last week, there was about $13.6 billion total on the table after 15 days of bidding. About 60 percent of the total bids were from Cingular, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. T-Mobile bid $4.2 billion for 118 licenses, mostly in major metropolitan areas. Cingular and Verizon sought licenses that covered broader regions of the United States.

DirecTV and EchoStar, the nation's two major satellite TV providers, were expected to be major bidders, but withdrew from the auction after about two weeks.