Any public or private organization, business or individual can apply to become a qualified bidder on an FCC spectrum auction. Of course, it helps to have a few hundred million dollars in cash on hand.
The FCC announces each spectrum auction four to six months in advance to give all potential bidders time to file their applications. All interested organizations or individuals must file an FCC Form 175 application electronically at least 45 days before the start date of the auction.
Form 175 asks for basic information about the applicant's business and financial structure, plus a list of which specific licenses will be bid upon. If the form isn't received in time, the application won't be considered. Over the course of several weeks, the FCC reviews each application and sends it back to the applicants as accepted, incomplete, or rejected.
All accepted bidders receive an information packet from the FCC with additonal details about the auction, including a list of the licenses that'll be auctioned. All bidders must then make an upfront payment that serves as a refundable deposit securing them a place in the auction.
The amount of the upfront payment depends on how many licenses the organization wants to bid upon. Each license is assigned a fixed number of bidding units. To be eligible to bid on the license, you must buy the required number of bidding units. If you want to bid on multiple units, your upfront payment must cover the total amount of bidding units for all of the licenses in which you are interested.
You'll only be considered a qualified bidder if your Form 175 application is accepted and you buy enough bidding units to make you eligible for each round of auctions.
Now let's look at how congressional legislation and FCC policy changes have affected spectrum auctions over the years.