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The FCC on Tuesday set a new 108 MHz clearing target and early November start date for the latest round of its ongoing incentive spectrum auction.

In a public notice, the FCC said the Stage Three reverse auction will commence next Tuesday, November 1. Bidding will run in one session from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first day, in two rounds from 10 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day from Nov. 2 through Nov. 4, and three one-hour rounds starting at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. from Nov. 7 onward. Bidding will not be held on Nov. 11 in observance of a Federal holiday.

The FCC said the new clearing target of 108 MHz for broadcasters will yield 80 MHz – or 8 paired blocks – of licensed spectrum for wireless use. In the Stage Three forward auction, that will translate to a total of 3,301 Category 1 blocks with zero to 15 percent impairment and two Category 2 blocks with between 15 percent and 50 percent impairment.

The new clearing target marks a dip from the FCC’s goal of 126 MHz of spectrum in Stage One of the auction. That figure was subsequently reduced to 114 MHz in Stage Two of the auction after forward auction bidders failed to reach the $86.4 billion price target set by broadcasters in Stage One’s reverse portion.

Last week, the forward auction bids fell short a second time. Bidding in the Stage Two forward auction – in which bidders were up against a $54.6 billion price target – ended after just one round when net proceeds reached only around $21 billion.

In a research note last week, BTIG’s Walter Piecyk said if Stage Three mirrors the 37 percent price drop that was seen between Stage One and Stage Two, that would imply a new price clearing target of around $35 billion for Stage Three. But, as Piecyk noted, that still may not be low enough, and BTIG is still expecting a fourth Stage to be necessary.

“(A $35 billion price target) is still 60% higher than forward bids of $21.5 billion,” Piecyk wrote. “In that scenario, Stage 3 Forward bids would have to rise ~30% to over $27 billion in order to simply trigger the extended round rule. We believe it’s unlikely that forward bidders would move the auction up that much in Stage 3. In fact, we could see another single round stage that would send the auction back to the Broadcasters for even lower prices. A four stage auction still offers 70 MHz in most markets, which would be enough to source 20 MHz of spectrum for 3 major bidders in most markets.”

According to Piecyk’s freshly revised auction timeline, the Stage Three reverse auction would end in early December with a forward auction start date in the middle of that month. A Stage Four reverse auction could begin before the end of the year with the forward portion concluding by the start of February, Piecyk said.

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