Friday, 01 February 2008 01:21

C block auction reaches open access threshold

A bid of $US4.7 billion in the US FCC auction of a nationwide chunk of 700MHz spectrum means the proposed open access rules will apply to the winner.

The bid was received in round 17 of the auction, and round 19 has closed. Bidders only have limited opportunities to re-enter the auction after not bidding in a round, so this could be the final price for the C block.

FCC rules mean that no bidders' identities will not be disclosed until the entire auction - involving hundreds of licences - is completed. Since Google pledged to bid at least $US4.6 billion to ensure open access for the C block, it is seen as a front runner. Also tipped as likely purchasers are AT&T, and the Verizon/Vodafone joint venture Verizon Wireless.

The importance of open access is that it stops the winning carrier from restricting the devices or services that can be used on its network.

The 700MHz band is being auctioned as it will soon be vacated by TV stations as they move to digital broadcasting. The commercial significance comes from the combination of excellent coverage and the availability of a nationwide licence.

There is another option available to bidders interested in providing national coverage. The D block requires the winner to provide network access to public safety agencies as well as its commercial customers, but bidding hasn't moved from $US472 million since the first round.

At the other end of the scale, local licences are also being auctioned and in some cases bidding is unlikely to reach $US7000. It's a different story in major population centres - the the licence for the Chicago area has attracted a bid of $US562 million, and the auction is still live.

The aggregate price achieved so far is just over $US14 billion.

At the time of writing, round 20 was in progress.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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