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Forward Auction Closes at $19.6 Billion

WASHINGTON—The fourth and final forward TV spectrum incentive auction has now closed at $19,632,506,746, but the auction itself is not over. Forward auction winners will next vie for specific frequencies.

“The participation of these broadcasters and wireless carriers will enable the Commission to release 84 megahertz of spectrum into the broadband marketplace. These low-band airwaves will improve wireless coverage across the country and will play a particularly important role in deploying mobile broadband services in rural areas," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement.

The bidding went into lightning rounds of 40 minutes each Wednesday morning, Feb. 8. Fewer than 20 or so of the 832 licensing areas remained active in the lightning rounds. Most were small markets but unreserved spectrum in New Orleans crept back into play at one point. The commission pushed the auction further on Friday by boosting bids from 10 to 15 percent between rounds, and by making bidders go all in, i.e., increasing the activity requirement from 95 to 100 percent. The final forward auction closed after 58 rounds.

While this particular bidding phase of the auction is over, the auction itself goes on. Winners will proceed to the assignment phase in which they vie for specific frequencies versus the generic blocks they just won. (See, “FCC Clarifies Auction Assignment Phase,” Jan. 26, 2017)

The commission previously said that it would release an assignment phase pubic notice “within a few business days” after the end of the forward auction clock phase. The assignment phase PN will announce the start time and provide directions for bidders. It will be followed about a week later with a preview period, then a practice auction, a mock auction and finally, the real thing.

The assignment phase is expected to “take several weeks” given the number of wireless licensing partial economic areas, or PEAs. The United States and its territories are divided into 416 PEAs, compared to the 210 designated market areas that geographically define TV broadcast licenses.

The final funds will be divided into $10 billion ($10,054,676,822) for 84 MHz of broadcast TV spectrum, $1.75 billion to move TV stations into what’s left of the broadcast spectrum band, $225 million to pay for the auction, and $7 billion plus whatever is raised in the assignment phase, for the U.S. Treasury.

For more TV Technology coverage, see our spectrum auction silo.