Government getting impatient for auction to finish

Industry Canada is apparently getting impatient for the AWS spectrum auction to end.

Late Monday, after 30 days and just over 200 rounds of bidding, the department suddenly announced that the rest of the week’s schedule will change starting Tuesday. Instead of the daily bidding finishing at 4 p.m. Eastern, it’s being extended to 5:30 p.m.

The reason, according to a message on the department’s Web site, is “in order to bring the auction to a timely close.”

The change can be seen as giving the few remaining bidders two more 15-minute sessions Tuesday to make up their minds on what they really want. The government will only end the auction when there is a round with no activity.

Over the past few days bidding has slowed from millions of dollars a round to Monday’s sub-$90,000 sessions. Instead of some 17 bidders being active each round, yesterday only a handful bidders were fighting over spectrum, and largely the same four licences (see below).

The rounds have been getting progressively shorter since the auction started May 27. Starting June 19 each round was shortened to 15 minutes from 20 minutes, with a half hour break in between sessions. For the overwhelming number of 292 licences up for grabs the fighting is over and the bidders are seemingly satisfied with what they have. Competition has driven the total of high bids to just under a record $4.2 billion.

Briefly, among the new entrants Calgary-based Shaw Communications dominates in Western Canada and looks ready to set up a regionally-based wireless service to compliment its cable offerings. Quebecor’s Videotron cable division will do the same in Quebec, while Bragg Communications will have a Maritimes-based service to go with its Eastlink cable service. Toronto-based Globalive has spectrum across the country except over Montreal and looks to be ready to become the fourth national wireless provider.

These are the four licences which comprised almost all of the Monday’s action: (The 292 licences are broken up into A, B,C, D, E, F, G and I blocks, mostly pieces of 20Mhz and 10Mzh spectrum. Some licences cover the same area, but different frequencies.)

– Licence 214b, which covers the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Globalive held it for the longest time until Monday morning, when Sasktel started a furious bidding war. The price of this spectrum jumped from $56,000 to $136,000 in a few hours;

–Licence 328d, covering the southern Ontario towns of Listowell, Goderich and Stratford, of interest because of the Shakespeare festival there draws cellphone-toting tourists. Bragg Communications held it for ages, but last Thursday began a fight with Montreal’s Celluworld, doubling the bid from $446,000 to $882,000;

–Licence 331d, covering the Southern Ontario city of Chatham. Held almost since Day 1 by Canquest Communications of Chatam, this morning Globalive stepped in and in a few rounds the value went up from $454,000 to $602,000;

–Licence 348d, covering central Alberta. First held by Calgary-based Shaw Communications, Toronto long-distance reseller Rich Telecom and the Toronto-based consortium called DAVE are now fighting for it, pushing the value up from $352,000 to $594,000.

By the end of the day the fighting over the Stratford area had stopped and instead switched to licence 316d, a 10Mhz slice covering Pembroke, Ont. Globalive and Celluworld have been sparing over this area, which is cottage country for some in Ottawa and includes Canadian Forces base Petawawa, for a while. The well-funded Globalive held it for most days. But Monday afternoon Celluworld stepped back in, and the price went up in four rounds from $588,000 to $690,000 before the day’s final gun.

Tuesday’s first rounds saw bidding again on licences 214b, 316d and 348d. However, fighting over Chatham switched from the 331d licence to the 331e licence, also a 10Mhz licence in a different frequency, which had been held by Bell for weeks. Now Canquest, having been pushed out of the “d” version of this location by Globalive, is going after it.

If the government was trying to send a hint, some participants didn’t get the message. Most of Tuesday’s rounds centred around five licences, each round going up about $80,000 or so. In the middle of the day SaskTel suddenly went after Globalive’s position on 10Mhz of spectrum on the East Coast, licences it has had high bids on for two weeks. In few rounds the PEI licence went from $201,000 to $248,000, while the Cape Breton went from $200,000 to $246,000.

In a late Tuesday round Globalive was also challenged on another licence it has had a high bid on for a while, a strategic 10Mhz spectrum for Cornwall, Ont., on the Toronto-Montreal highway. This time the challenger was Celluworld which pushed the high bid up from $690,000 to $719,000.

The auction resumes Wednesday with round 218.

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