Dish Joined by 33 Other Bidders in U.S. Airwaves Auction

Investor Mario Gabelli, Ntelos Holdings Corp. and telephone companies in Vermont and Wyoming are among 33 applicants that may compete with Dish Network Corp. to win airwaves at a U.S. auction beginning in January.

Top mobile carriers Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. didn’t appear among entities submitting applications for the auction to begin Jan. 22, according to notices posted today by the Federal Communications Commission.

The third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. earlier said they weren’t interested in the so-called H Block airwaves, lessening competition and increasing odds that Dish, led by co-founder Charlie Ergen, can buy airwaves cheaply.

Applicants unveiled today include “no big names to challenge Ergen,” Walter Piecyk, a New York-based analyst with BTIG LLC, said in a blog post.

The H Block auction stands to be the biggest sale of commercially useful U.S. frequencies since 2008 -- the year after Apple Inc. introduced the iPhone and helped ignite a surge in demand for wireless data.

Success in auctions can leave winners flush with frequencies to support smartphones and losers barraged with complaints of slow apps and Web pages.

Gabelli, founder of Gamco Investors Inc., holds a minority interest in Lynch 3G Communications Corp., according to FCC documents. Ntelos, which offers digital wireless service in Virginia and West Virginia, was among companies identified as potential bidders.

Dish Deal

The airwaves are to be offered in 176 regional chunks, and the FCC didn’t say how bidders match with localities.

Dish has offered the FCC a $1.56 billion floor price in the auction. In return, Dish is asking that regulators allow broader use of airwaves it already occupies.

Today’s announcement by the FCC is good for AT&T and Verizon because it’s a step toward completing associated accords to reduce potential interference in airwaves the two companies hold, Paul Gallant, Washington-based managing director for Guggenheim Securities LLC, said in a note.

Congress last year mandated the sale of the H Block and the other frequencies for commercial use by February 2015 as a way to address wireless demand and raise money for a nationwide communications network for emergency workers.

Also next year the FCC is to auction airwaves voluntarily surrendered by television stations.