Wireless Auction Bids $3.7B

WASHINGTON – The bidding topped $3.7 billion on the second day of the Federal Communications Commission’s auction of government-owned airwaves, but there were no new suitors Friday for a closely watched block of spectrum to be shared with public safety agencies.

The $3.7 billion, up from $2.78 billion on Thursday, represented the highest bids received for five separate blocks of spectrum in the auction, which is eventually expected to net the federal government at least $10 billion.

However, there were no new bids on a nationwide piece of the spectrum, known as the “D” block, which must be shared with public safety agencies under auction rules set by the agency. Thursday’s bid of $472 million still stood.

Analysts at Stifel Nicolaus said new bidders could still emerge for the D block airwaves, but they said the prospects for the FCC getting the minimum $1.3 billion price it has set for the block were “declining.”

Companies qualified to bid include major carriers AT&T Inc and Verizon Wireless, as well as possible new competitors like Internet company Google Inc, EchoStar Communications Corp and Cablevision Systems Corp.

Identities of bidders will be kept secret, under FCC rules, until the entire auction ends.

Analysts say the major carriers could use the new spectrum to offer consumers more advanced services such as broadband access via mobile phones and wireless broadband to laptop computers.

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.

Bidding is scheduled to resume on Monday morning. The auction is expected to take weeks, or even months.

The top bid for another nationwide piece of the airwaves known as the “C” block topped $1.79 billion on Friday, up from $1.24 billion on Thursday. That block carries a condition requiring it be open to all devices and software applications as long as the $4.7 billion minimum price on it is met.

Other spectrum includes more local chunks set aside in blocks designated “A” and “B.” The final, “E” block, is considered less useful because it is limited to one-way data transmission.

The 700-megahertz signals are valuable because they can go long distances and penetrate thick walls. The airwaves are being returned by television broadcasters as they move to digital from analog signals in early 2009.

The electronic auction will end when no more bids are submitted.

If bidders do not meet the minimum price for the D block or any other pieces of the spectrum, the FCC can rebid them and possibly ease some of the conditions on them.

A lack of bidders for the D block could be a reflection of the credit crunch that has hurt the ability of companies to raise capital and could hinder smaller bidders, according to industry analysts.

A key potential bidder for the D block airwaves, Frontline Wireless, dropped out earlier this month. Frontline declined to say why, but analysts blame it on a shortage of financing.

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