FCC Could Announce Broadcaster Auction Results on Thursday

April 13, 2017, 2:50 PM UTC

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission may announce the winners of the government’s $19.8 billion spectrum auction as early as Thursday, industry officials told Reuters.

The broadcast incentive spectrum auction is one of the commission’s most complex and ambitious to date attracting wireless and other telecommunications companies who are buying television airwaves from broadcasters for wireless use.

Companies plan to use the spectrum to build new networks or improve existing coverage. An FCC spokesman declined to comment on when the results will be announced.

The FCC said last year that 62 bidders made upfront payments to take part, including AT&T (T), Verizon Communications (VZ), Dish Network (DISH), T-Mobile U.S. (TMUS)—which is controlled by Deutsche Telekom, Comcast (CMCSA), and U.S. Cellular Corp.

Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner said “it will be interesting to see if T-Mobile will get a nationwide license and how much more on top of that; if Verizon was actually bidding; how much and where Comcast and the other cable guys were bidding/winning (nationwide or just their markets),” in an email on Thursday.

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BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk said in a 2016 research note he believed Comcast had made an auction deposit of $1.8 billion and AT&T and T-Mobile each made deposits of more than $2 billion, citing company financial statements. The companies have declined to confirm how much they made in deposits, citing FCC rules.

U.S. Cellular said in a securities filing in February it had “submitted bids for a minimum amount of $327 million” in the auction.

From the auction closing, a quiet period extends for 10 business days preventing some companies from talking to participants about potential tie-ups or mergers.

Of the $19.8 billion being raised to acquire 84 megahertz of spectrum, more than $6 billion will go to reduce the U.S. deficit, more than $10 billion will go to broadcasters that chose to relinquish spectrum rights, and up to $1.75 billion for other broadcasters that incur costs in changing channels.

In June, the FCC said sellers had initially sought $86.4 billion for 126 megahertz. Many analysts had expected broadcasters to earn substantially more.

In February, Twenty-First Century Fox’s Fox Television (FOX) unit said it would receive about $350 million in proceeds from spectrum sales. Tribune Media said it expected $190 million in proceeds from the auction.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in February “these low-band airwaves will improve wireless coverage across the country.” The spectrum will transition over 39 months. Some stations will transition to a new band and a new channel, while others will move off-air. Those going off the air must give at least 30 days notice.

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