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FCC's wireless airwaves sales raises $19.6 billion

The much-anticipated auction--which was expected to draw bids from Google, Verizon, and others--comes to a close after 261 rounds.

One of the U.S. government's most significant sales of wireless airwaves concluded on Tuesday, racking up nearly $19.6 billion in bids over 261 rounds.

The 700MHz spectrum, which is currently being used to air analog TV broadcasts, was put on the auction block by the Federal Communications Commission in January. It's scheduled to be freed up by February 2009 to make way for all-digital broadcasts.

The slice of airwaves has proven attractive to potential bidders--including Google, Verizon, and others--not only because it's one of the last remaining chunks of beachfront spectrum, but because of its inherent properties, which mean the waves can travel long distances and propagate through walls. Some say those characteristics make it ideal for offering more robust, affordable wireless broadband services.

The FCC, in a nod to requests from Google and consumer advocacy groups, dictated that about one-third of the spectrum must abide by "open access" principles, requiring whoever wins control of it to allow consumers to operate whatever mobile devices and applications they like.

Another slice of the spectrum was intended to be used to build a nationwide network for public safety operators. But that segment reportedly did not attract the reserve price that the FCC had set, which is potentially a serious setback for proponents of that plan.

It wasn't immediately clear when the FCC would reveal the identities of the winning bidders.

The FCC, which operated the auction, was expected to unveil more details about its close during a 2:45 p.m. PDT conference call with reporters. Stay tuned to CNET News.com for more.