FCC closes spectrum auction

Fresh strategy needed for public safety network

The Federal Communications Commission is weighing its options to improve public safety communications after it failed to attract an appropriate bid for creation of a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders.

A spectrum auction that began in January was closed March 18 after receiving $19.6 billion worth of bids.

The 700 MHz D Block, which was to be dedicated to a public safety partnership, did not receive a bid that met the $1.3 billion reserve price, said Kevin Martin, chairman of the commission, in a press release.

"I believe the commission remains committed to ensuring that we work to solve public safety's interoperability challenges," he said. "Because the reserve price for the D Block was not met in the 700 MHz auction, the FCC is now evaluating its options for this spectrum."

To create a national public safety network, the FCC had ordered that public safety and commercial users share a 10 MHz portion of the D Block, with fire and police officials having priority during major emergencies. The goal was to enable greater interoperability for first responders to share data feeds, such as video and data files, via a wireless broadband network. The winning bidder would have negotiated the sharing arrangement with a public safety panel designated by the FCC.

A start-up company named Frontline Wireless LLC had promoted the plan, but the firm abruptly closed its doors in January.

In the first week of the auction, the FCC had received only a single bid of $472 million for the D Block, far below the minimum price.

Industry sources suggest the FCC consider these options:
  • Put the D Block up for bid again while reducing the minimum reserve price and offering more liberal terms for ownership.
  • Elicit more financial support from state and local governments.
  • Offer the spectrum for sale in smaller blocks with little or no restrictions.
  • Pursue other business models for public safety communications.

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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