Wireless Auction Cools as Bidder Exits

WASHINGTON The ardor that media companies initially showed for the wireless frequencies up for auction by the Federal Communications Commission has cooled as one of the biggest early bidders for the airwaves apparently has dropped out.

The consortium that included News Corp., DirecTV and EchoStar has ended its participation in the auction, according to commission data.

FCC rules prohibit participants from discussing the process, according to company representative Darris Gringeri, who added that EchoStar still hopes to develop a means of delivering broadband service.

The company is likely to pursue a partnership or buy out companies that already provide the service, analysts said.

The frequencies were given up by various government agencies from the Defense Department to the Department of the Interior.

Winning bidders can use the frequencies for just about anything, including mobile phone services, wireless Internet connections, video and data delivery.

News Corp., DirecTV and EchoStar might have given up on the bidding, but the FCC auction reports show that a second consortium comprising the nation’s big cable operators is still bidding.

The cable group includes Time Warner, Comcast and Newhouse; it has made a provisional bid of $1.2 billion for 63 licenses that cover more than 285 million people.

Also still bidding for the licenses are wireless communications providers Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile USA.

T-Mobile, the fourth-largest U.S. carrier, has less spectrum than its larger rivals. It had made the top offers for 74 licenses after 18 auction rounds, bidding $2.6 billion. Verizon Wireless, the nation’s second-largest wireless carrier, had the highest offers for four licenses with bids of $2.8 billion. The nation’s biggest wireless carrier, Cingular, had 23 provisionally winning bids with offers of about $587 million.

That doesn’t mean that all interest by media companies has waned. Other cable companies such as Cablevision and Cable One continued to bid on licenses that could strengthen their hand in areas where they dominate.

Cablevision also had provisional winning bids at $393 million for five licenses in the New York and New Jersey markets covering about 118 million people. Cable One had 25 provisionally winning bids of more than $5 million in areas from Boise, Idaho, to Gulfport, Miss.

The sale of 1,122 licenses already has raised more than $9.4 billion, and analysts have forecast that the sale could raise as much as $15 billion. The auction continues until there are no new bids, withdrawals or other activity.