The 700 MHz auction ends, with the D-block unsold

By one measure, the 700 Mhz spectrum sale was the most successful government auction in history. But a dark cloud remains over at least one part of it, where the FCC finds itself stuck right where it was before the opening gavel was struck.

After weeks of competitive and secret bidding, the US Federal Communications Commission's auction of some of the most valuable spectrum ever offered to the private wireless industry -- still part of the upper UHF TV band until February next year -- finally closed yesterday. According to the Commission's revised tally this afternoon, the auction could raise almost $19.6 billion, 92% above last year's congressional estimates.

That's nearly $6 billion more than the previous record holder, the FCC's 2006 auction of wireless spectrum that raised $13.7 billion; and is $452 million higher than the amount collected by all the other spectrum auctions in the history of the agency, from #3 on down the list to #68, combined.

The winning bid for the crown jewel of the auction, the nationwide license to the so-called "C-block" where carriers could establish premium services, is $4,838,462,000. The identity of the winning bidder still remains secret, though the buzz on the street is that it starts with a "V," not a "G."

"With the open platform requirements on one-third of the spectrum, consumers will be able to use the wireless device of their choice on those networks and download whatever software or applications they want on it," reads a statement from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin this morning.

"The open platform will help foster innovation on the edge of the network, while creating more choices and greater freedom for consumers to use the wireless devices and applications of their choice. A network more open to devices and applications can help ensure that the fruits of innovation on the edges of the network swiftly pass into the hands of consumers."

But one of the more innovative elements of the auction, which reserved the "D-block" for bidders willing to coalesce with a public safety coalition in putting that block to use for a first-responders communications system, failed miserably. Only one bid was placed early on for $128,210,000, and that didn't meet the minimum bid requirements.

"I believe the Commission remains committed to ensuring that we work to solve public safety's interoperability challenges," Martin stated this morning. "Because the reserve price for the D Block was not met in the 700 MHz auction, the FCC is now evaluating its options for this spectrum."

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