Data Sheet—Who Wants to Be a Billionaire, Wireless License Auction Edition

October 11, 2018, 1:01 PM UTC
People use their mobile phones during a performance at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival
People use their mobile phones during a performance at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival: Be The Generation in Central Park on September 29, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)
Angela Weiss—AFP/Getty Images

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It’s a fun time of year for that particular group of reporters, analysts, lawyers, and other hangers on who closely follow the telecommunications industry. That’s because the Federal Communications Commission is holding two airwave license auctions later this year and this week the agency publicly disclosed the applications of the companies that might want to bid.

Sure, it’s most likely that the bulk of the licenses to offer cellular service in the 28 GHz and 24 GHz bands, perfect for upcoming 5G networks, will be bought by the usual suspects AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. But with public disclosure of the people behind every application, it’s also kind of like buying a lottery ticket in that $548 million MegaMillions lottery drawing on Friday. We reporters get to dream of who else might buy into the industry—and write stories about them—at least until the auction ends.

Two years ago, it was James Hulce, a 20-year-old college student from Menomonee Falls, Wis., who got some ink for applying to bid in the FCC’s 600 MHz auction. He won one license. A big story that mattered more came 10 years ago when Google popped up in the pool of bidders for the so-called C-Block of 700 MHz spectrum. The company’s participation let it influence new open access rules mandating that consumers could bring their own devices to use on those airwaves, helping kick off the smartphone revolution. The search giant’s bids, none of which succeeded, also drove up prices for the rest of the field.

This time around, I and other reporters are just getting started pouring over the dozens of filings. One entity called “8538 Green Street LLC” includes Vincent McBride as an owner. A former mailman, McBride got rich off buying and selling licenses starting in the 1990s. The Wall Street Journal had that great story, already, of course. McBride reveals in the new filing that he’s making an average of $1.2 million a year. And don’t skip the married couple backing “High Band License Co LLC.” Billionaires Rajendra and Neera Singh started as cellular engineers before parlaying winning spectrum bids into huge riches. The Washington Post had that tale. Who else is in this year’s field? I’ll let you know.

(This story was updated on March 31, 2019 to correct that James Hulce won one license.)


Panic at the disco. The big story out in the real world, of course, was the stock market crash. Prompted by fears of higher interest rates and perhaps other factors like the impact of trade war tariffs finally sinking in, stocks plunged. The market benchmark S&P 500 Index dropped more than 3%, its worst one-day slide since February, but the damage was much worse for most tech stocks. Apple lost 4%, Google parent Alphabet fell 5%, and Amazon dropped 6%. Netflix and Twitter each lost 8%, Facebook and Salesforce were down 7%, and Alibaba and Adobe fell 6%. Thought you could hide in the cryptocurrency market? No such luck. Bitcoin fell 5% and Ethereum lost 10%, too.

I write sins, not tragedies. After the huge plunge in regular trading, Square's stock price also got a dumping after hours. The stock price of the payments processing startup dropped 10% in the usual session. Then, after the market closed, the company announced that longtime CFO Sarah Friar would leave in December to become the CEO of local social network Nextdoor. The news pushed the shares down another 10%. At about $70, the stock is all the way back to where it July. It's still more than double where it started the year.

Look ma, I made it. While investors had a tough day, the Conference Board released its annual survey of CEO pay and found that the leaders of some tech companies have made out pretty well over the past year. At the top of the compensation list at $103 million was Broadcom CEO Hock Tan. First Data CEO Frank Bisignano was second at $102 million. The bulk of both those paydays was stock, so they might be worth a little less after Wednesday's trading. Shares of both companies declined more than 5%. Broadcom was also the subject of a bizarre, forged national security scare. "We’ve officially crossed over into nuts," quipped longtime chip industry analyst Stacy Rasgon at Bernstein Research.

Say amen. Seeking to avoid an unintended consequence, Amazon said it would raise the pay of some hourly workers so that the company's new $15 per hour minimum wage in conjunction with the end of bonus and stock award programs would not lower any worker's pay.

Nine in the afternoon. The third quarter PC sales rankings are out and there's a new name in fifth place, at least in the United States. Edging out Acer and garnering 4% of U.S. shipments was Microsoft and its growing Surface line of devices, according to Gartner. Still, the Redmond software giant will need to sell quite a few more to catch number four Apple and its 14% share. And globally, Acer is still ranked fifth by Gartner, which includes two-in-one devices but not Chromebooks or tablets in its calculations.

Death of a bachelor. Power management chipmaker Dialog Semiconductor is getting $600 million from Apple over the next few years in return for certain assets and staff plus a licensing deal. Apple is already the British company's largest customer, relying on the chips for the iPhone.

King of the clouds. Online document management startup Egnyte raised $75 million in private capital from Goldman Sachs. The money will go to adding customer support staff, but Egnyte won't be hiring in San Francisco or New York City. Instead, the new hires will be located in cheaper locales like Spokane, Wash. and Raleigh, N.C.

(Headline reference video explainer, that you and my 14-year-old son may not need.)


Humans did not evolve to process quite so much written data as we do in the modern age. At least that's the thesis of neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf in her new book Reader, Come Home. Jennifer Howard reviews the argument for the Washington Post and digs into some of the science behind the concerns:

In her new book, she explores neuroplasticity—the amazing adaptability of our brains—and sketches out the “neurological circus” set in motion when a reader encounters words. She compares the many elements that reading sets in motion—vision, language, cognition—to the interactions among the performers in a three-ring circus. Wolf pushes the analogy harder than she needs to, but it does convey a sense of the neurological acrobatics the reading brain performs.

While neuroplasticity allowed humans to develop our “deep-reading circuit,” she explains, it also makes us vulnerable to constant streams of digital input. Clutching cellphones, scrolling through Instagram feeds, browsing websites all day, “we inhabit a world of distraction,” she writes.

One of many useful studies she cites found that the average person “consumes about 34 gigabytes across varied devices each day”—some 100,000 words’ worth of information. “Neither deep reading nor deep thinking can be enhanced by the aptly named ‘chopblock’ of time we are all experiencing, or by 34 gigabytes of anything per day,” Wolf argues.


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Neuroplasticity or not, the four years of high school Latin that once occupied space in my brain thanks to my brilliant but dearly departed teacher Michael Fiveash appear to be long gone. But I do fondly recall reading the ultimate classic, Virgil's Aeneid, in its original language. The New Yorker has a fascinating essay in its latest issuing reconsidering the themes of the Aeneid and whether its story of the creation of a less-than-democratic empire has lessons for today. Consider it a food for thought follow up.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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