Giant FCC spectrum auction raises $19.8 billion, sets up 5G services

T-Mobile has made good on its promise to be the big victor in the 600Mhz low-band spectrum auction spending almost $8 billion to grab what the operator says is 45% of the total TV spectrum on offer.

Craig Moffett, an analyst at MoffettNathanson, said in an email that there were three surprises in the results: "Comcast bought less than expected, Dish Network bought more, and Verizon bought nothing at all". The company gave up some of its TV spectrum in New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago, walking away with proceeds of $481.6 million.

Roughly $10 billion in revenue went to broadcast stations for their sales of wireless spectrum, a number that some expected to be higher.

Cable and satellite TV providers were among the other big spenders.

"The conclusion of the world's first incentive auction is a major milestone in the FCC's long history as steward of the nation's airwaves", FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. The assignment phase, which began on March 6, had companies that won licenses in the forward auction covering the 428 partial economic areas bid again for where those 10-megahertz license blocks would fall within the up to 70 megahertz of spectrum in each PEA.

Of the 175 winning broadcasters, the FCC said, 30 will receive money for agreeing to move to a lower channel and 133 others will relinquish licenses and indicated their intent to remain on air through channel-sharing agreements.

Other wireless carriers also participated, including AT&T, which spent more than $900 million on spectrum licenses, and several smaller carriers like US Cellular, which spent $329 million.

That will require 957 of what the agency describes as "non-winning stations" to change channels. The first group of stations to move channels is scheduled for November 2018. Consumers may have to rescan their sets to get them. That way, those who like a station that they know as Channel 4 can continue receiving it on Channel 4.

AT&T and Verizon, which were the big winners in the last auction of low-band spectrum in 2008, have built the foundation of their 4G LTE networks on low-band 700MHz spectrum, another sliver of spectrum that was once used to broadcast TV. The largest award for a non-commercial station was to New Jersey Public Broadcasting, owner of WNJN-TV, with $194 million.

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