FCC has only one bid on spectrum

After nearly a week of bidding, the Federal Communications Commission says it has received only a single bid, far below its reserve price, for the radio spectrum block reserved for first responders.

In the 13 rounds of bidding that started Jan. 24, a single anonymous bidder has offered to pay $472 million for the D Block, which includes 10 Mhz reserved for creation of a nationwide broadband network for public safety.

The lone bid received so far falls short of the FCC's minimum bid requirement of $1.33 billion, according to the FCC.

While the bidding may take several more weeks to complete, concern is rising that there might not be a winner for the D Block and the FCC may have to start over in its plans to establish a nationwide network for public safety.

If that happens, a Democratic lawmaker is urging that Congress be involved in crafting revised rules for the auction, rather than allowing the FCC to simply reauction the D Block. The FCC would have the option to revise the rules, lower its reserve price and re-auction the spectrum, although the agency has not indicated whether it would do so. There is speculation that the bidder of $472 million may be included in negotiations.

If the FCC adopts a quick rule change it could be perceived as a deal that favors only a few bidders, cautioned Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), a member of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

"If the D Block does not sell, only then should the FCC revisit the auction rules," Harman wrote to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Jan. 23. "I urge the Commission to work with Congress to preserve the underlying policy ? the concept of a market-driven, public-private partnership ? and to address the specific factors that did not produce a winner in the first auction."

The FCC had ordered that a portion of the D Block would be shared by public safety users and commercial users, with fire and police officials gaining priority during major emergencies. The winning bidder of that segment must negotiate a sharing arrangement with a public safety group designated by the FCC.

The plan was strongly promoted by a start-up company named Frontline Wireless LLC, which had several prominent backers, and which intended to bid on the D Block. However, Frontline abruptly closed its doors two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the FCC has received bids totaling $9.65 billion to date for the total amount of spectrum for sale. Companies including Google Inc., AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless are eligible to submit anonymous bids. The auction is not likely to end for several more weeks as FCC auctions have occasionally gone for 100 rounds of bidding or more.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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