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Public Safety Spectrum Auction Fails to Secure Bid

The April 2008 issue of Security Management features an "Intelligence " item regarding the recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spectrum auction.  The spectrum is being reallocated from analog broadcasters as part of the digital television transition to be completed in 2009. The FCC had planned to have 10 MHz of what is known as "d block" spectrum go directly to a public-safety licensee, the Public Safety Spectrum Trust Corp. (PSST), which is made up of major public safety groups. An additional 10 MHz was to be auctioned to a commercial bidder that would construct a public-private broadband network to improve communications for first responders in emergencies. The FCC rules stated that the winning company had six months to work out a network-sharing agreement with PSST.

The commercial winner would have been required to build out a national wireless broadband network, for which public safety members would pay a usage fee. Additionally, public safety users would have received priority on the commercial network during certain times of emergency.

However, the d block failed to attract a bid of its reserve price of $1.3 billion, and the FCC must now reexamine its plans for the spectrum.

PC Mag reports that Rep. Edward Markey  (D-MA) promises a review of the d block auction and is calling on the FCC to reexamine its rules regarding the spectrum. ​Markey also promised to evaluate why the d-block failed to attract any significant bids. Each block had a reserve price set by the FCC, and all but the d-block, which would have been designated for public safety had it earned at least $1.3 billion, met those targets. The d-block, however, failed to attract any bids beyond a $472 million opening bid.

It is widely believed that costly build-out requirements, the high reserve price, and a certain ambiguity as to how the winner would work with the public safety community dissuaded d-block bidders. Frontline Wireless, an entity that was looking to build a national network for emergency responders, was going to be the one footing the bill for D-block spectrum, but the group unexpectedly folded at the beginning of January.

The article says that the FCC can lower the reserve price on the spectrum or even strip the public safety requirement entirely.  However, the FCC statement on the auction states that  "The 700 MHz Public Safety/Private Partnership was designed to achieve the important public policy goal of helping to solve public safety’s interoperability problems and allow police, fire and other first responders to better communicate with one another in times of emergency. The FCC remains committed to this goal."

Read more about the FCC's goals for the spectrum in April's issue of Security Management.