FCC rakes in record receipts.

The FCC finally brought down the closing gavel for the AWS-3 auction (that would be Auction 97 for those of you who keep track of such things) on January 29. The auction began on November 13, took breaks for four holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Day – and even slowed down when a couple of winter storms blew through Washington, D.C. Still, by the time the 341 rounds of bidding were complete, nearly $45 billion in total successful bids had been netted, a record for FCC auctions. (The previous high number, taken in during the 2008 sale of 700 MHz frequencies, brought $19 billion, which looked big back then but now looks a bit thin.) The AWS-3 auction also featured the highest number of rounds, 341, exceeding the previous high (318) from the 2010 paging auction.

As the auction dragged on, the FCC was under the gun to get it closed, and quickly. Congress imposed a February, 2015 deadline for the FCC by which the FCC must issue licenses to the successful bidders, and plenty of paper will have to be pushed before those licenses can be officially bestowed. With an eye on the calendar as January sped by, the FCC goosed the auction process along by increasing eligibility requirements to 100% and accelerating bidding activity to 21 rounds a day. (When the auction started in November, the FCC conducted only three rounds a day.)

The close of the auction sets in motion a rapid series of events for both winning bidders and the FCC.

The FCC will release a public notice announcing the winning bidders and amounts. Within 10 business days of that public notice, winning bidders must submit FCC applications for the licenses which were won. They’ll have 20 days in which to pony up 100% of their bids. The FCC will then have to verify the payments, review the applications and issue licenses to winning bidders tout de suite in order to meet the Congressionally-imposed deadline for getting those licenses into the hand of the auction winners.

As in previous auctions, bidders quickly raised the stakes for licenses in heavily populated areas. The five most expensive licenses, covering New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, topped $1 billion dollars each. The highest bid was $2.8 billion for a New York license – bidding on that license ended during round 64. As the auction drew to a close, the only activity involved bids on some less expensive licenses.

At the beginning of the auction the FCC announced that 70 bidders were qualified to participate. During the auction, the FCC used anonymous bidding to deter retaliatory bidding and anti-competitive behavior, so we don’t know who the bidders, or the winners, are. Upon the release of a forthcoming public notice, the FCC will identify the winning bidders and the amounts that they owe the U.S. Treasury.

Strict FCC restrictions against bidders communicating with one another remain in effect until the payment deadline which is 20 business days after the release of the public notice. Readers are reminded that the FCC aggressively enforces the restriction on prohibited communications, so care should be taken to avoid such communications.