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T-Mobile, Dish Network, And Comcast Won Spectrum In FCC Auction

Deadline logo Deadline 4/13/2017 David Lieberman
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T-Mobile, Dish Network, Comcast, and US Cellular are among the biggest winners of spectrum from the government auction of airwaves currently being used by broadcasters, the FCC said today in a report that officially wraps up the sale process.

“There are three big surprises here,” says MoffettNathanson Research’s Craig Moffett. “Comcast bought less than expected, Dish Network bought more, and Verizon bought nothing at all.”

T-Mobile spent $8.0 billion followed by Dish Network with $6.2 billion, and Comcast with $1.7 billion. AT&T put up $910 million.

Comcast received nearly $482 million for three stations in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago — each a city where it has a duopoly.

“In each of these markets, NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations retained the channel with the superior coverage and sold the second station in order to channel share as provided in the FCC’s rules,” it says.

Meanwhile Fox received $354 million for stations in Chicago, Charlotte, and Washington DC. And CBS sold a Minneapolis station for $10 million.

Some 175 stations will collect $10.05 billion for agreeing to relinquish 84 MHz of spectrum. And 50 buyers committed $19.8 billion, and will get to use 70 MHz. (The remaining 14 MHz will go to wireless mics and unlicensed use.)

The auction process formally began a little more than a year ago, but was authorized by Congress in 2012. The FCC launched the effort to clear airwaves needed to serve the soaring number of mobile phones, tablets, and other devices.

“The conclusion of the world’s first incentive auction is a major milestone in the FCC’s long history as steward of the nation’s airwaves,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says. “Consumers are the real beneficiaries, as broadcasters invest new resources in programming and service, and additional wireless spectrum opens the way to greater competition and innovation in the mobile broadband marketplace.”

The FCC says that 30 TV stations agreed to move to a lower channel while 133 others will relinquish their licenses. They plan to continue broadcasting via channel-sharing agreements with other stations.

But virtually every station will be affected: To use the airwaves efficiently, the FCC must reallocate — or repack — the spectrum that broadcasters and wireless broadband companies use.

That will require 957 of what the agency describes as “non-winning stations” to change channels.

The first group will do so on November 30, 2018. They will have to give viewers 30 days notice and information about how to rescan their TV receivers. That way, those who like a station that they know as Channel 4 can continue receiving it on Channel 4.

The channel movement will present stations with an “unprecedented task” in “very tight time frames,” National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith says. The trade group wants to work with the FCC and Congress “to develop a balanced approach to repacking that is fair to all stakeholders, most importantly our tens of millions of TV viewers and radio listeners.”

The FCC says that 36 stations, including 11 non-commercial ones, will receive more than $100 million — and the biggest winner will see $304 million.  The top amount to a non-commercial station is $194 million.

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