The results are in. After a year-long process, the Federal Communications Commission today announced the conclusion of its first-ever broadcast incentive auction, naming T-Mobile, Dish, Comcast and US Cellular as the biggest winners.
T-Mobile threw down $8 billion to capture 45 percent of all low-band spectrum sold, meaning it now has the ability to provide service across the entire US and Puerto Rico. This doesn't mean the carrier's service will improve over night, but it does give T-Mobile the opportunity to blanket the entire nation in LTE coverage. Note the auction didn't deal with the up-and-coming 5G spectrum, which is currently being gobbled up by AT&T.
The FCC raked in $19.8 billion in gross revenue for 70MHz of spectrum, so you could call the commission itself a winner, too.
But of course, the FCC doesn't get to keep all of that cash. Roughly $7 billion raised in the auction will help pay down the national debt, and more than $10 billion will go to the 175 winning broadcasters participating in the FCC's program to repurpose their airwaves for mobile carriers. For example, NBCUniversal earned $481.6 million by selling spectrum in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. Meanwhile, NBC's parent company, Comcast, ended up spending $1.7 billion to acquire mobile spectrum in the auction.
These sold stations will move to lower channels, be absorbed into other networks or disappear from the airwaves completely. An additional 957 non-winning stations will change channels in an effort to clear the airwaves for mobile use; the first group of stations will begin migrating on November 30th, 2018.
This mostly affects people who use over-the-air antennas, as they'll have to re-scan their TV sets as the changes roll in. Cable and satellite TV providers should make any necessary changes for their customers. The FCC has set up an FAQ page for anyone wondering what the televised future holds.
"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 said. "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."