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$19.8 billion airwaves auction may mean better cell service

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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Thursday that T-Mobile US Inc, Comcast Corp, Dish Network Corp and U.S. Cellular Corp were among the largest buyers of spectrum in an $19.8 billion broadcast airwaves auction. (NYSE: S) had already said it had enough spectrum and wouldn't participate.

U.S. Cellular said in a securities filing in February it had "submitted bids for a minimum amount of $327 million" in the auction. About 70 percent of USA residents now have smartphones, the agency said.

"Little old T-Mobile walked away with more than any other company, 45% of all the spectrum auctioned", said T-Mobile's CEO, John Legere, in a video released on Thursday.

Some observers had predicted the auction of this valuable spectrum to raise $30 billion or more.

"What is most interesting to us was (Verizon) was nowhere to be found", Jennifer Fritzsche, an analyst at Wells Fargo, said in a research note, adding that "we continue to believe Verizon's interests lay in the higher band spectrum assets". One hundred seventy-five TV stations will get almost $10.1 billion of the auction proceeds, while the US treasury will get $7.3 billion. That's an average of 31MHz of the low-band spectrum nationwide.

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A channel-sharing system will help ease the shift, and there will be a 39-month transition period for moving broadcast stations to new channel assignments, the FCC said. A handful of stations may go dark.

T-Mobile has made good on its promise to be the big victor in the 600Mhz low-band spectrum auction spending almost $8 billion to grab what the operator says is 45% of the total TV spectrum on offer. Verizon opted not to bid despite previously committing to the auction.

WWTO, a commercial TV station in Chicago, will receive $304 million from the auction, while two public TV stations in New Jersey will receive a combined $332 million.

Cable and satellite TV providers were among the other big spenders. The incentive auction was approved by Congress in a bill passed in 2012, and the complicated auction process began in March 2016.

"We had expected Dish to be a de minimis player in the auction", he said.

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