T-Mobile, Comcast, Dish Big Winners in FCC Airwaves Auction

  • Auction of TV-station airwaves brought bids of $19.8 billion
  • U.S. airwaves sale meant to free frequencies for mobile phones

T-Mobile US Inc., Comcast Corp. and Dish Network Corp. are among the top winners in an auction of airwaves useful for mobile service, according to results released by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The No. 3 U.S. carrier, T-Mobile, was the largest bidder at almost $8 billion. Billionaire Charlie Ergen’s Dish Network, which is already sitting on a vast trove of airwaves it hasn’t yet put to use, bid the second most with $6.2 billion.

Comcast, stepping into the wireless fray this year with a plan to use Wi-Fi networks and Verizon’s cellular network, bid $1.7 billion. AT&T, which will reap rich spectrum rewards from being the operator of the first nationwide emergency communications network, bid only $1 billion.

Verizon, the largest wireless carrier in the U.S., and Sprint Corp. didn’t bid at all.

"Yep! The results of the recent low-band @FCC spectrum auction are in!!! and... Well, @TMobile CLEANED UP! This is HUGE news for customers!" T-Mobile president John Legere said in a tweet.

The auction began last year and fetched $19.8 billion in bids for airwaves voluntarily surrendered by TV stations so the frequencies can be repurposed for surging wireless data traffic. Stations that accepted $10.05 billion in payments can go off the air or move to other airwaves.

“While we celebrate reaching the official close of the auction, there is still much work ahead of us,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in an emailed statement. “It’s now imperative that we move forward with equal zeal to ensure a successful post-auction transition, including a smooth and efficient repacking process.”

T-Mobile jumped as much as 0.7 percent, rebounding from losses earlier in the day, and was up 0.5 percent to $64.24 at 1:56 p.m. In New York. Comcast also moved into positive territory, up as much as 0.3 percent. Dish sank as much as 2.1 percent.

Comcast, the top U.S. cable company, last week announced a wireless service. By owning spectrum, Comcast could eventually build its own network and lease or buy additional airwaves to add capacity.

Dish, through acquisitions and participation in an earlier auction, has amassed a trove of airwaves, and has said it intends to build a wireless network.

Spectrum Auction Could Juice Mobile Calls, Squeeze TV: QuickTake

Companies that expressed interest in selling frequencies included CBS Corp., Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. and Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

The FCC said the auction raised $7.3 billion to pay down the national debt. TV station owners were paid $10.05 billion.

A U.S. airwaves sale that ended in 2015 drew $44.9 billion in bids. The Congressional Budget Office in 2015 estimated that the current auction would bring in $10 billion to $40 billion, with an expected value of $25 billion, after TV station owners were paid.

— With assistance by Paul Barbagallo, and Scott Moritz

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