Public Airwaves Auction Raises $2.8B on First Day

Bids on the opening day of a much-anticipated auction of public airwaves totaled $2.8 billion Thursday, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Bidders are vying for 1,099 licenses to spectrum that will be vacated by television broadcasters in February 2009. The government estimates the auction will bring in as much as $15 billion.

Bidding is anonymous, so the auction results are sort of like sports scores without team names attached.

The top bid was for $1.2 billion from a firm that hopes to win a nationwide swath of spectrum that must be kept open any type of phone or software, as long as it doesn't harm the network.

The bid was high, but well short of the $4.6 billion minimum required to win it.

Another national license, this one to be used as a basis for a national communications network dedicated to public safety, drew a bid of $472 million, also well short of the required minimum.

Among the qualified bidders for the auction are telecommunications giants AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless as well as newcomer, Google Inc.

The auction will continue for as long as the bidding remains active, which could be for several weeks or longer.