(Recasts and adds analyst comment)
By Peter Kaplan
WASHINGTON Feb 4 Bidding on a key piece of the
wireless airwaves being sold by the U.S. government started
rising again on Monday after it appeared stalled at the end of
last week, according to data released by the Federal
Communications Commission on Monday.
A $4.71 billion offer made last Thursday for a nationwide
package of the "C" block of wireless spectrum was surpassed by
a combination of eight separate bids for regional pieces of the
C-block airwaves that totaled $4.74 billion, according to the
FCC, which is conducting the auction.
The bidders' identities are being kept secret until the
entire auction ends, under FCC rules. But analysts point to
Verizon Wireless and Internet search leader Google as the most
likely bidders for the C block.
"This could reflect a continued battle between two original
bidders -- most likely Verizon Wireless and Google -- on the C
block, or could represent an entirely different bidder or
combination of bidders that are exiting the sky-high prices of
(another) block," analysts at Stifel Nicolaus said in a
Bidding on the nationwide package of C-block airwaves
stopped late Thursday and Friday. But on Monday, the FCC
received new high bids for five individual regions of the
C-block spectrum, pushing the combined offers for all eight
regions above the bid for the nationwide package.
It was unclear whether the piecemeal regional bids on
Monday had been put together by a single bidder aiming to
acquire the entire block of spectrum or were offers from
several different suitors, Stifel Nicolaus said.
The high bids cover the U.S. Northeast, Southeast, Central
region, West, Alaska, Hawaii, Great Lakes and Mississippi
The single $4.71 billion bid last week exceeded the $4.64
billion minimum price set by the FCC and triggered a condition
sought by Google Inc (GOOG.O) that would make the spectrum
accessible to any device or software application.
Whatever company submitted the $4.71 billion package bid
will have a chance to top the new high bids when the auction
resumes on Tuesday morning.
However, if last week's high bidder was Google and it was
topped on Monday by Verizon, Google may "fold its hand" and let
Verizon acquire the C-block spectrum, Stifel Nicolaus said.
Analysts have speculated that Google might be aiming to
push the bidding far enough to trigger open access, rather than
to actually win the auction.
The C block is one of five groups of 700-megahertz spectrum
being offered. The top bids on Monday totaled $18.82 billion
for all five blocks, raising more money than any previous FCC
The 700-megahertz signals are valuable because they can go
long distances and penetrate thick walls. The airwaves are
being returned by television broadcasters as they move to
digital from analog signals in early 2009.
Other potential bidders in the auction that began Jan. 24
range from entrenched carriers AT&T Inc (T.N) and Verizon
Wireless to possible new competitors like Google, EchoStar
Communications Corp (DISH.O) and Cablevision Systems Corp
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon
Communications Inc (VZ.N) and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L).
(Reporting by Peter Kaplan; Editing by Tim Dobbyn, Gary Hill)