FCC spectrum auction to fund long-sought public safety network

A congressional budget deal that will allow the Federal Communications Commission to auction off radio frequency spectrum also will help fund a long-awaited national public safety network.

The compromise reached by congressional negotiators and expected to be approved over the weekend will allow the auction of TV broadcast spectrum to wireless Internet providers, the New York Times reported.

The auctions are expected to raise between $15 billion and $25 billion, the bulk of which would be used to cover the extension of the payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits, the Times reported.

But $7 billion also would be set aside to create a nationwide network for police, fire and other emergency crews, something that has been sought since Sept. 11, 2001.

The administration’s 2013 budget proposal also includes $7 billion for development and construction of the public safety network, as part of $10 billion in funds for a National Wireless Initiative that includes $3 billion worth of additional radio spectrum in the 700 MHz D Block.

Under the budget proposal, up to $300 million of the $7 billion development fund will go to a Wireless Innovation Fund intended to develop technologies and standards for interoperable first-responder communications.

Wireless Internet providers have been clamoring for more spectrum for a while, as the continued growth of smart phones and tablets — and the wireless services they access — threatens to strain existing bandwidth. The broadcast spectrum became available after the after the 2009 conversion from analog to digital TV signals.

The public safety network would be built on 10 MHz of spectrum left over from the auction of the 700 MHz band.

The FCC has been trying to get that 10 MHz, known as the D-Block, made available for the network for years. In 2008, it tried to auction it off, under conditions set by Congress, but no carrier submitted the minimum bid

Under the current agreement, the FCC would split some of the revenue generated by the auction with participating TV stations, and use the proceeds for the benefits plan and the public safety network.

Under the agreement, the FCC also would set aside unlicensed bands of spectrum for free use by such technologies as Wi-Fi, garage door openers and remote controls, the Hill reported.

 

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About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

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