Companies Bid More in 2nd Auction for Airwaves : Communications: More than $600 million had been pledged for 10 national licenses.

From Associated Press

The sequel to the government's first auction of the airwaves opened Wednesday with companies bidding more for new wireless communications licenses than they did in the first round in July.

The licenses are for a new service that will let people send and receive a variety of information--faxes, messages and pages--without being tethered to phone lines.

Bids in the opening round Wednesday totaled $186 million, compared to the $103.7 million offered by 27 companies in the opening round of the July auction. When that auction for 10 national licenses was over 47 rounds later, the Treasury Department had been pledged more than $600 million.

Twenty-eight companies are now competing for 30 licenses to provide the regional service. The United States is divided into five regions covering 220 million people.

In the first round, licenses for the Northeast region, which includes New York and Boston, drew the heaviest bids: $40 million.

The Southern region, which includes the Washington-Baltimore region and Miami, and the Midwest region, which includes Chicago, each drew bids of $38 million. Bids for the Western region, including Los Angeles, totaled $36 million, followed by the Central region, which includes Dallas, and drew $34 million.

The auction, which is taking place in a specially built 12,000-square-foot room in a government building near the Capitol, could last for weeks, according to Federal Communications Commission officials running the event.

Bidding continues until there are no new bids for any of the licenses.

The most aggressive company in the first round was PCS Development Corp., a minority-owned firm, which bid a total of $100 million for 10 licenses in each of the five regions.

The Durham, N.C.-based company is backed by one of the country's leading minority financiers, Maceo Sloan, according to FCC officials.

In an interview, Sloan, the chairman of PCS Development, said his company wants to secure and string together licenses in all five markets in order to provide a nationwide communications service.

Among the products offered would be "pocket voice mail," he said. The price: "Under $50 a month."

Other aggressive companies in the first round included divisions of big paging companies. They are Pagemart, bidding about $56 million, and Mobilemedia, bidding $16 million.

Bidders for the regional licenses range from affiliates of big regional phone and paging companies to small entrepreneurs.

Minorities are hopeful they will come away from this auction with some licenses. None of the national licenses sold in July went to minority-owned firms, which were quickly outbid by deep-pocketed telecommunications companies.

Aware of this, the FCC revised the rules for the current auction.

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