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By Kyle Daly
Oct. 25 — The Federal Communications Commission will kick off the third stage of its incentive spectrum auction Nov. 1, the agency announced Oct. 25.
The agency set a clearing target of 108 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum—the amount it seeks to reclaim from TV broadcasters in the third stage. If the auction closes at the end of the current stage, the FCC will be able to make 80 MHz of spectrum available for wireless use in most markets nationwide. Megahertz is a measurement of radio spectrum frequency.
The FCC wants to shift spectrum licenses currently held by the broadcast television industry into the hands of wireless carriers to handle exploding data demands. AT&T Inc., T-Mobile US Inc. and Verizon Wireless, as well as regional carriers, satellite carrier Dish Network Corp. and cable provider Comcast Corp. are all eligible auction bidders.
The second stage of the auction closed Oct. 19 after just one round of bidding from wireless carriers. Bidding topped out at $21.52 billion, well shy of the $54.59 billion broadcasters sought to relinquish spectrum licenses. That target dollar amount, and the amount of spectrum targeted for repurposing to wireless data uses, drops with each successive auction stage.
It remains unclear whether bidding will intensify once the target cost to buy out broadcasters' spectrum licenses comes down closer to the $25 billion to $35 billion range many analysts believe is the most the wireless industry is willing to pay. It's also unclear how many more stages would be needed to get to that point. Many analysts expect the auction to last for at least four stages. The FCC will announce the clearing cost after it wraps the reverse bidding phase of stage three, in which broadcasters agree to the prices for their spectrum licenses.
The FCC also released a full list Oct. 25 of the spectrum licenses available across the country. Most markets will see eight licenses on the auction block in the third stage.
With each stage, the FCC has sought to map out a plan for reassigning spectrum that will minimize interference between broadcast and wireless signals. Any block of spectrum where interference is inevitable is said to have what are known as impairments. An impairment limits the capacity for wireless operations in any given block of spectrum, making it less valuable for wireless providers. In the stage-three plan, there are just six blocks of spectrum in the country, out of 3,303 available across all markets, with any degree of impairment. Just two of those have a significant degree of impairment.
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