The FCC concluded the first stage of its spectrum incentive auction Wednesday after 52 rounds of broadcaster bidding in the reverse auction.
According to the FCC, the reverse auction closed with a clearing cost of $86.4 billion for a clearing target of 126 MHz. The forward auction – where wireless carriers and others will bid to take over the spectrum made available during the reverse auction – is expected to begin sometime in mid-to late July.
“Broadcasters have done our part; now it’s up to the wireless industry to demonstrate the demand is there for low-band TV spectrum,” NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said in a statement following the FCC’s announcement.
Wireless industry association CTIA on Wednesday expressed pleasure the auction was moving forward, but declined to comment specifically on the clearing cost target.
Analysts, however, were less shy about expressing doubt such a high clearing cost would – or could – be met.
“They’re completely nuts,” Roger Entner of Recon Analytics said. “It’s inevitable that we will go back and lower the clearing target and lower the amount that will be raised. Because the wireless industry, even with private equity and cable, I don’t see has a chance of raising that much.”
Dan Hays, principal of PwC’s Strategy&, agreed. The end of the first stage, he said, “reveals for the first time just how expensive it could be for mobile service providers to get their hands on the most lucrative tranche of spectrum to hit the block in nearly a decade.”
“At a clearing cost of more than $86 billion, the bar has been set high for the wireless industry,” Hays said. “Given the current financial profile of the industry, this number may have to move significantly lower. A second stage of the reverse auction later this year is likely. Indeed, we could well see the proceedings drag on into early 2017 before coming to a final conclusion.”
Similarly, BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk said on Twitter Wednesday the FCC’s auction “could take a while” with an $86 billion target, and noted the figure would also make it difficult to clear 100 MHz of licensed spectrum.
In a research note released earlier this week, Piecyk said a clearing cost target above $70 billion could “stoke fears (among investors) that the auction could drag into 2017 or that the FCC will not be able to source much spectrum in the big markets at an attractive price.”
On the other hand, Piecyk said such a clearing target would likely boost broadcaster stocks as investors “incorrectly conclude that they will be able to hold out for very high prices.”
As of 1:40 p.m. Wednesday, Dish Network stock was up 3.48 percent on the news – despite a Tuesday rating downgrade to “sell” from MoffetNathanson.
Heading into the forward auction, the wireless industry is playing down a man.
Tier-1 carrier Sprint long ago announced it would not participate in the auction, leaving just three of the four major carriers – including Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T – to participate.
According to the FCC’s list of 99 eligible forward auction bidders, the fifth-largest carrier in the country, U.S. Cellular, is also planning to participate. Other players, including Comcast and former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, will also have paddles in the forward auction provided they submit their upfront payments by July 1.
Filed Under: Telecommunications (Spectrum)