The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday that its AWS-3 auction broke a record, raising more than $44 billion for spectrum licenses.
The auction, which has been running since November, surprised both government and industry watchers alike. Initially billed to raise around $10 billion, the appetite for spectrum as the public continues to amass Internet-enabled devices sent the auction past the agency’s goals quickly after it went live.
“Improving consumer access to wireless broadband is a priority of mine, and has been a priority of the Commission over the past five years,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “Now, an additional 65 megahertz of spectrum is available to improve wireless connectivity across the country and accelerate the mobile revolution that is driving economic growth and improving the lives of the American people. The results of this auction confirm the strong market demand for more spectrum. We are confident there will continue to be strong demand for valuable low-band spectrum that will be made available in the Incentive Auction early next year.”
Next year’s coming auction will involve broadcast TV spectrum, which experts believe to be more lucrative than what was sold in the AWS-3 auction due to how far signals can travel with broadcast spectrum.
“If you had conducted a poll of analysts before the start of the AWS-3 auction, the highest prediction given for its yield would not have exceeded $18 billion,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a release. “Seventy-seven days and a record setting $44.89 billion later, Auction 97 has shown that demand for this spectrum was phenomenal.”
The AWS-3 and broadcast TV spectrum auctions were authorized as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. Part of the money raised by the auction will front the $7 billion price tag on FirstNet, a nationwide interoperable public safety network.
In a blog post, National Telecommunications and Information Administration Administrator Larry Strickling and U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Alex Macgillivray called the auction a “ringing financial success” and an “important milestone” in meeting President Barack Obama’s goal of freeing up 500MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband by 2020.
“The AWS-3 auction represents an important pivot point as we embrace spectrum sharing as part of a new approach to increased spectrum access,” the post reads. “With a sustained level of cooperation between federal agencies and industry, this approach will produce benefits for both.”