Airwaves Bidders Await Word From FCC

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A majority of the Federal Communications Commission is in favor of a measure that will allow for the quick release of the names of the winners of a record airwaves auction.

The identity of the anonymous bidders in the $19.6 billion auction could be released early next week or perhaps as soon as Friday, according to an FCC official who asked not to be named because the vote was not official.

While the auction set a record, the news was not all good. One portion of the spectrum that was dedicated to the creation of a nationwide emergency communications network failed to attract a winning bid.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Tuesday that he had circulated an order among his fellow commissioners that would "de-link" the so-called D block from the auction. Following approval by the full commission, the results could be released "almost immediately," he said.

Martin normally circulates an order three weeks in advance if it is designated for vote at a public meeting. But such advance warning is not necessary when commissioners approve an item "on circulation," as three members had done by late Wednesday.

The airwaves for auction are being made available thanks to the transition to digital broadcasting by full-power television stations. Broadcasters have to be off the spectrum by Feb. 18, 2009.

Besides raising the most money, the auction was also a victory for consumers, according to Martin. Thanks to an "open-access" provision, subscribers on about one-third of the airwaves auctioned will be able to use any phone and any type of software they choose, as long as they don't harm the network.

The winning bidders have yet to be announced, but the most likely candidates are the nation's two top cellular providers, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless.

The spectrum at auction was considered especially valuable due to its ability to travel long distances and easily penetrate walls - the same qualities that made it ideal for television broadcasters.

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