Airwave Auction Ends, Winners Remain Unknown

The U.S. government auction of wireless airwaves ended yesterday raising a record $19.59 billion, but winners of the valuable spectrum were not immediately identified. The winners of the hundreds of licenses are expected to be announced within days.

Analysts believe Verizon Wireless is the most likely winner of a nationwide piece of the airwaves called the “C” block that attracted a $4.74 billion high bid.

“This is spectrum that’s obviously … very valuable — will be critical to trying to provide additional wireless broadband services,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin told reporters after the auction ended.

The C block spectrum includes a requirement sought by Internet leader Google that would make it accessible to any device or software application.

Television broadcasts are moving from analog to digital signals in early 2009. The 700-megahertz spectrum that television has been using is valuable to phone companies and others because the signals can go long distances and penetrate thick walls.

One sticking point of the auction has been the sale of the D block. No company has met the minimum bid for this part of the spectrum. Under FCC rules, the winner of the D block would have to give police, firefighters and other public safety groups priority use during an emergence.

The FCC may decide to re-auction the D block airwaves and modify the rules and minimum price to make it more attractive to bidders. The FCC has declined to comment specifically on what it will do.