FCC seeks input on new auction for public safety spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission is putting all options on the table for the new auction of the chunk of 700 megahertz spectrum set aside for a public safety network and is seeking public comment on the process.

FCC recently held an auction for radio frequency spectrum in the 700 MHz band that will be abandoned by television broadcasters next year when they make the federally mandated switch from analog to digital signals. The auction included creation of a 10 MHz license in the D Block to be part of a public/private partnership with the adjacent 10 MHz of spectrum dedicated to a Public Safety Broadband License.

'The 700 MHz public/private partnership was designed to achieve the important public policy goal of promoting public safety interoperability, allowing police, fire and other first responders to better communicate with one another in times of emergency,' FCC said in announcing its new notice of proposed rulemaking.

But bids for the spectrum fell far short of the $1.3 billion minimum, and no license was awarded. FCC now must decide on new rules for an auction. The original auction and license requirements have been criticized by Congress and industry as being too expensive and stringent for an economically risky partnership. The commission is reconsidering all auction rules and potential uses for the spectrum in enabling the desired network.

Suggestions from industry and Congress for the new auction include multiple regional licenses rather than a single national license, reducing or eliminating the reserve price, and selling off the spectrum for commercial use and using the proceeds to fund creation of an interoperable network. One thing that everyone has agreed on so far is that in any public/private partnership for the network, details of the partnership should be spelled out in advance of an auction.

The FCC notice asks whether a public/private partnership is in the public interest and seeks comment on possible changes to the current rules governing such a partnership, such as whether to limit use of the shared network to public safety services as defined in the Communications Act. Comments also are also sought on the technical requirements of the shared wireless broadband network.

Other issues raised in the notice include:
  • Rules governing public safety priority access to the network during emergencies.
  • Performance requirements and license term.
  • Whether to license the spectrum on a nationwide or regional basis.
  • Fees associated with a shared network.
  • Whether it would be appropriate for the public safety licensee or any of its service providers to serve as a mobile virtual network operator to manage access by first responders.
  • The process for the D Block licensee and public safety broadband licensee to negotiate a network-sharing agreement.
  • Potential requirements that the public safety broadband licensee be a nonprofit.
  • Auction issues, such as whether to restrict auction participation and how to determine a reserve price.

The notice also seeks comment on how the D Block should be auctioned and licensed for commercial use if it were not required to be part of a public/private partnership and other ways to facilitate deployment of a public safety network if such a partnership were not in the public interest.

Comments must be submitted by June 20, and replies to comments can be made until July 7. Comments can be filed electronically through the Electronic Comment Filing System, or through the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Those who file on paper must provide an original and four copies of each filing. Mailed comments should be addressed to the commission's secretary, Marlene Dortch, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission, 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington DC 20554.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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