In a research note regarding last week’s big reveal of the highest bidders in the FCC broadcast incentive auction, MoffettNathanson suggests that the three surprises were that Comcast bought significantly less than expected, Dish bought significantly more, and Verizon didn’t take any at all. On Thursday, the FCC announced T-Mobile, Dish, Comcast, and US Cellular as the top bidders. At $19.8 billion in gross revenue for 70 MHz of spectrum, the incentive auction is among the highest grossing auctions conducted by the FCC, according to a statement put out by the Commission.
T-Mobile was quick to boast about the results, saying that it took 45 percent of all low-band spectrum sold, covering 100 percent of the United States. The cost to the company was $7.99 billion, which is reportedly its largest investment ever.
MoffettNathanson’s analysis is that this is indeed a “win” for T-Mobile. “Not only did the carrier acquire the spectrum that they needed, they did so at a very good price. T-Mobile’s strong result also helps their negotiating leverage in a potential Sprint merger,” the research note reads.
Comcast used a press release to say it invested $1.7 billion in the forward auction to acquire spectrum in the markets identified in the FCC’s Public Notice. “Comcast cannot comment further on the forward auction results until the FCC’s anti-collusion quiet period ends,” the cable operator notes.
Comcast came away with a “draw” at best, according to MoffetNathanson, which called the operator’s participation “half-hearted.” The firm’s analysis also included conjecture that perhaps Comcast’s moves to buy less than expected in the auction might signal a possibility that it could be in the market to snap up a wireless operator at some point.
While Dish was one of the highest bidders and thus dubbed one of the “winners,” MoffetNathanson actually sees it as not so great for the company’s investors. “The bull case for most Dish investors has always been that Dish will sell their spectrum,” the analysis reads. “Dish’s decision to buy so much spectrum is a curious one; they have self-evidently chosen to pay more for spectrum than the companies to whom they could eventually sell that spectrum.”
For its part, the FCC says that consumers are the biggest winners of all, especially due to the expanded competition that could evolve out of the auction results. “The conclusion of the world’s first incentive auction is a major milestone in the FCC’s long history as steward of the nation’s airwaves,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says. “Consumers are the real beneficiaries, as broadcasters invest new resources in programming and service, and additional wireless spectrum opens the way to greater competition and innovation in the mobile broadband marketplace.”
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly also put out a statement noting that the information released about the close of the auction “finally removes the speculative rumors about its outcome and lets everyone start planning for the future. Moreover, it initializes the ability for the Commission and others to conduct substantial analysis regarding the auction structure and procedures.”
He further adds that many steps remain to actually complete the auction, including repacking the broadcasters and releasing this spectrum to forward auction winners.