AT&T, Comcast, Dish Network and T-Mobile were the big winners in the voluntary auction of TV broadcast spectrum in the 600 MHz band completed several weeks ago, the FCC announced this afternoon. Fifty 600 MHz auction winners, about half of which were rural carriers, collectively bid $19.8 billion for 70 MHz of spectrum nationwide.
The biggest winner was T-Mobile, which won $8 billion in spectrum, representing about 40% of the total amount bid. Not far behind it, according to analysts at Moffett Nathanson, was Dish Network, which won a surprising $6.2 billion in spectrum. That news is surprising because Dish also was a big winner in the AWS-3 auction, yet has not yet begun building a network — and some industry observers question whether the company ever will or if, instead, it will simply sell its spectrum.
Moffett Nathanson researchers also were surprised that Comcast, bidding as CC Wireless, won only $1.7 billion in spectrum – all within its own cable/broadband landline footprint. But perhaps it’s not so surprising. The auction results news comes just a week or so after Comcast announced wireless service based on a “Wi-Fi first” approach that will fall back on the Verizon network when Wi-Fi isn’t available. That offering is only available to Comcast broadband customers and while the company declined to say whether the deal with Verizon precluded the cableco from building its own cellular network, the answer now would appear to be “no.”
AT&T also won less spectrum than the researchers expected, a bit less, at least — just $910 million worth. And major rival Verizon, which was approved to participate in the auction, won no spectrum at all. The results for AT&T and Verizon are less surprising than they would have been six months to a year ago, however. More recently, both carriers have been focusing closely on getting 5G rolled out as quickly as possible and the 600 MHz spectrum is not suitable for supporting 5G.
(Sprint also won no spectrum in the 600 MHz auction, but that was no surprise because the company had said it did not plan to bid.)
Rural 600 MHz Auction Winners
According to the FCC, 23 of the 600 MHz auction winners are rural carriers that are seeking rural bidding credits. Those credits allowed the carriers to place higher bids than they will actually have to pay. Qualified rural bidders get a 15% discount off of the amount they bid.
Not all rural operators that won 600 MHz spectrum will be getting rural bidding credits, however. We spotted several companies in that category on the FCC’s list of winning bidders – including Cellular South, Nsight and others. If you consider U.S. Cellular a rural carrier, they too fall into that category, having won $328 million worth of spectrum.
A complete list of 600 MHz winners can be found in this FCC document.