Wireless spectrum auction comes to a close

March 18, 2008, 9:41 PM UTC

By Michal Lev-Ram

After nearly eight weeks and 261 rounds of bidding, the government’s spectrum auction finally ended Tuesday.

In January,  the Federal Communications Commission began auctioning off the coveted 700MHz spectrum, which is particularly suited for broadband services and is the last major chunk of nationwide spectrum.  The FCC had hoped to raise at least $10 billion from the auction, but as the last bid came in late Tuesday the total reached $19.6 billion. The auction attracted companies such as Verizon (VZ), Google (GOOG), AT&T (T) and Qualcomm (QCOM).  The spectrum is currently used for television, which will give up the airwaves in 2009 when TV broadcasting goes digital.

As this was a “blind” auction, the bidders’ identities were kept secret.  But the winners won’t be revealed until all five blocks of spectrum up for auction are accounted for — the so-called D block, which was set aside for a nationwide public safety network, failed to raise the minimum price set by the FCC. Analysts say it’s likely the government will separate the D block from the rest of the auction and put it up for sale again  so they can collect the money for the other blocks.