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T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon Win Spectrum in FCC Auction That Raised $41.3 Billion

That's slightly less than the nearly $45 billion in total bids due to various discounts and incentives.

Elena Yakusheva / Shutterstock

The Federal Communications Commission revealed the list of winning bidders in its spectrum auction on Friday, with AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile among the 31 bidders that paid more than $41.3 billion.

AT&T spent $18.2 billion, Verizon won $10.4 billion worth of bids, while T-Mobile’s winning bids totaled just under $1.8 billion. Two entities tied to Dish Network had winning bids of a combined $13.3 billion. Less than $1.2 billion went to other entities.

Because of certain discounts and incentives, that’s slightly less than the nearly $45 billion in total bids that were placed before the auction closed Thursday. Still, it’s more than double the reserve price set by the government and well ahead of what many wireless industry watchers were expecting.

Companies were bidding on the right to use certain frequencies for wireless airwaves. The government sets aside some spectrum for its own use, auctions off other parts to broadcasters and wireless carriers and also leaves some bands open and unregulated for things such as Wi-Fi. As demand for high-speed data has grown, so has the need for carriers to bolster the amount of spectrum on which they provide service.

“Improving consumer access to wireless broadband is a priority of mine, and has been a priority of the commission over the past five years,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “Now, an additional 65 megahertz of spectrum is available to improve wireless connectivity across the country and accelerate the mobile revolution that is driving economic growth and improving the lives of the American people. The results of this auction confirm the strong market demand for more spectrum.”

Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile US all chose to take part in the auction, with Sprint opting to sit out. Dish Network itself did not bid; however, two of the winning entities — Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless LicenseCo — have been previously linked to Dish.

“Because of the FCC’s anti-collusion rules, however, we are not able to discuss further at this time,” Dish said.

Dish is the big wild card in the wireless market. Even before this auction the satellite TV service had amassed a huge treasure trove of airwave licenses, but the company has yet to reveal a plan for its holdings. It’s likely Dish is looking to expand its offerings beyond TV to compete with cable companies, which already sell as many as four different services, including wireless. Dish made a bid for Sprint, but ended up losing out to SoftBank and has been quiet ever since, though it is seen as one potential buyer for T-Mobile US at some point.

The list of winning bids stretches over 95 pages, but Northstar, SNR, AT&T and Verizon appear frequently, with T-Mobile having won a lesser number of licenses. The FCC auction parcels things out on a market-by-market basis with multiple winning bids in each region.

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