Wireless Consolidation’s Impact on the Incentive Auctions

Since the discussion of the television broadcast incentive auctions began a few years ago, the US wireless industry has significantly consolidated. In the past 12 months the following major transactions have reshaped the industry: Verizon’s buys Spectrum Co, signaling the probably end of the cable industry’s interest in entering the industry; T-mobile buys MetroPCS and Sprint takes a majority stake in Clearwire. And there is significant market speculation about Leap wireless combining, possibly with AT&T. Each of these deals likely eliminates a major bidder in the incentive auctions and, to varying degrees, reduces the need for incremental spectrum for the combined entity. The impact on bidding in the upcoming incentive auction is unclear – its only one datapoint – but it points to potentially lower demand and/or auction prices than initially anticipated. There will undoubtedly be large demand for spectrum in the largest markets that greatly exceeds the price television broadcasters value the spectrum. However, in some of the smaller markets within the auction process (the auction will largely be confined to the major markets, although many more markets would be subject to repacking), this might not be the case. Its a complicated business and engineering issue. But potentially, it could complicate the FCC desire to reallocate 120 Mhz nationwide to mobile broadband.

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