FCC: Talk to Us About the D Block

The FCC said yesterday it wants public comment on whether to put the 700MHz spectrum’s D Block up for sale again.

The agency is most interested in learning if it’s in the public interest to keep the public-private partnership requirement on the swath of bandwidth. The original idea was for a commercial broadband wireless provider to team with public safety agencies. In times of national disaster, the network would be used exclusively by first responders. At all other times, the network would be for commercial use.

But the D Block didn’t sell earlier this year, even as the FCC reaped a record $20 billion for selling airwaves to companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. Industry experts speculated collusion was to blame, although the Inspector General recently put the kibosh on that – it said the D Block didn’t sell because of high lease payments and onerous requirements.

The FCC now is taking another look at its D Block. For example, commissioners want to more clearly define the role of the public safety broadband licensee; determine who constitutes a public safety user; discern the appropriate role of advisors such as Cyren Call; and decide whether increased oversight is necessary, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a prepared statement.

The FCC also seeks input on “how to clearly define expectations regarding build out, default penalties, and network parameters that will allow potential bidders to construct a positive business case for undertaking this unique opportunity” on the commercial side, Martin said.

The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC), comprised of organizations such as the Consumer Federation of America and Public Knowledge, commended the FCC’s action. The group said it’s waiting for the text of the FCC’s order “so that we can see whether the commission will also consider a wholesale or other model to enhance competition.”

The wholesale matter invited heated debate last year. Proponents such as PISC and Google Inc. pushed for a wholesale model that would have allowed small carriers across the country to compete against the Verizons and AT&Ts. But the commission last July rejected the proposal. The agency said it had not established wireless regulatory policies to “level the playing field” against incumbents and that it wouldn’t do so in the 700MHz auction.


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