The FCC used comparative hearings to allocate spectrum licenses prior to 1982 and used lotteries starting in 1982. The Commission was given auction authority in 1993 and held its first auction in 1994. Comparative hearings allowed regulators to decide which applicant would put the spectrum to its best use. Unfortunately, as described by Milgrom in his 2004 book, Putting Auction Theory to Work(p.3), "The process was hardly objective: it involved lawyers and lobbyists arguing that their plans and clients were most deserving of a valuable but free government license." Lotteries sped up the process, but introduced their own problems. Milgrom (2004, p.3) states: "Lottery winners were free to resell their licenses, encouraging thousands of new applicants to apply for licenses and randomly rewarding many with prizes worth many millions of dollars. Lottery winners were often simple speculators .... Economic resources were wasted on a grand scale, both in processing hundreds of thousands of applications and in the consequent need for real wireless operators to negotiate and buy licenses from these speculators. The lotteries of small licenses contributed to the geographic fragmentation of the cellular industry, delaying the introduction of nationwide mobile telephone services in the United States." Auctions were identified as the mechanism best able to assign the licenses to the highest valuing users and to return a part of the value to the taxpayer. The basic simultaneous multiple round auction format that was adopted in 1994 remains the mainstay of FCC auctions today, although it has evolved over time.

Auction Data

FCC auctions are administered by the Auctions Division of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and all data is publicly available at http://wireless.fcc.gov/auctions/, but has been organized here to provide consistency across auctions and improve accessibility. All Excel files are in Excel 2007 (xlsx) format and all Access files are in Access 2007 (accdb) format. Click here to download the compatibility pack to allow Office 2003 users to view and use Excel 2007 files.

Related Information

FCC Auction Designs

Simultaneous Multiple-Round (SMR) Auctions

In a simultaneous multiple-round (SMR) auction, all licenses are available for bidding throughout the entire auction, thus the term "simultaneous." Unlike most auctions in which bidding is continuous, SMR auctions have discrete, successive rounds, with the length of each round announced in advance. After each round closes, round results are processed and made public. Only then do bidders learn about the bids placed by other bidders. The period between auction rounds also allows bidders to take stock of, and perhaps adjust, their bidding strategies. In an SMR auction, there is no preset number of rounds. Bidding continues, round after round, until a round occurs in which all bidder activity ceases. That round becomes the closing round of the auction.

Package Bidding

The Commission's SMR auction design can be modified to allow combinatorial or "package" bidding. With package bidding, bidders may place bids on groups of licenses as well as on individual licenses. This approach allows bidders to better express the value of any synergies (benefits from combining complementary items) that may exist among licenses and to avoid the risk of winning only part of a desired set.

Annotated Bibliography of
FCC Auction Related
Economics Papers

Auction Data Key (pdf)