Newly-installed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler received his Christmas turkey a little early this year.
The long-anticipated auction for the so-called H Block, a valuable swath of communications spectrum crucial for next-generation mobile broadband services, is scheduled to take place on Jan 22, 2014.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the auction block. None of the four national mobile carriers filed applications to bid. While neither Verizon nor AT&T were expected to participate, both Sprint and T-Mobile USA had pushed the FCC to accelerate the H Block auction, and singaled strong interest in bidding aggressively.
Instead, the two companies blindsided the agency by bowing out inexplicably in the weeks leading up to last week’s application deadline.
The FCC announced last week that only one major bidder, satellite maverick DISH Network, had committed to compete nationally for the 10 MHz. block of radio spectrum. DISH will likely walk away with the H Block simply by bidding the reserve price of $1.56 billion.
Just as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel predicted anxiously in September, “We will have a retail sale–not an auction.”
That’s a far cry from the confident predictions of fiercely competitive biding made back when the FCC announced the auction in June–back when Wheeler was waiting to be confirmed. At last week’s annual dinner of the Federal Communications Bar Association, Wheeler tried hard to put a good face on the situation, but was clearly disappointed.
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