700 MHz and the D block

I want to applaud Harold Feld for writing energetically about what has happened to the planned public-private partnership for creating a dedicated public safety network.  Key post is here.

The FCC paired the upper band D block (a single 10 MHz nationwide license) with 10MHz of public safety spectrum located next to the D block, and conditioned the D block license on an obligation to negotiate with public safety representatives towards the construction by the D block licensee of a nationwide public safety network. :  The idea was that a robust, dedicated public safety network would be built to the specifications of the public safety community, and in exchange the commercial licensee of the D Block would be permitted to use the public safety spectrum (in addition, of course, to the D Block spectrum) when it was not otherwise needed. Absent this private participation, funding for a shared public safety network was unavailable.

Frontline Wireless, a privately held company headed by former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, submitted a proposal along the lines eventually adopted by the FCC for the upper band D block.  In the event of an emergency, Frontline proposed that public safety would have immediate, preemptive use of the entire network.  Frontline won a substantial victory when the FCC decided to allow the D Block licensee to obtain “designated entity” small business bidding credits even if the licensee planned to operate on a wholesale basis. :  Frontline dropped out before the auction, however, apparently unable to convince investors of the certainty of the enterprise.

Now Harold tells us that the leader of a competitor to Frontline may have scuttled Frontline’s chances by (in his capacity as a contractor to the public safety entity) purportedly telling “Frontline’s investors that it would cost $500 million over ten years as a flat fee to access the [public safety] spectrum.”:  That appears to have driven Frontline away.

So now we have an auction in process.  How’s the D block doing?:  Nothing going on.  Apparently there is no one even approaching the reserve price for that D block, and no other bidders in the offing.  All that planning is down the drain, and Harold’s position is that the auction should be stopped by the Commission while staff investigates what happened.

Meanwhile, two bidders appear to be fencing over the much-discussed C block.  Maybe it’s Verizon and Google.  We won’t know for a while.  I still think Verizon will win in the end, but it would be fine to be proved wrong.

The D Block plan always seemed a distant prospect at best, and both Frontline’s plans and rhetoric were high-flown.  But surely it shouldn’t have been blocked in this particular way from the auction – if indeed that’s what happened.  And we’re facing a lot of questions::  if this block is re-auctioned, what rules will govern it?:  what will be the basis for those rules if indeed a public-private partnership is unworkable?

9 thoughts on “700 MHz and the D block

  1. […] while it investigates, but I doubt that will happen. Susan Crawford (thanks for the pointer Susan) wonders what will become of the D Block should it go unauctioned, which looks like it might […]

  2. Nick Ruark

    While we all wait to see whether there will be any further bids for the 700 MHz “D” block (and, while I hope there will be, I’ll not be holding my breath), I’d suggest that some independent “exploration” be done concerning the background of a few of the players involved – specifically the principal person behind Cyren Call and, the former FCC chairman involved with Frontline. Without going into a long story, lets just say that one might find the backgrounds of both individuals an “interesting” education. Here’s a clue to get started: Who was the former chairman of a company that used the tag line “the way business get done”? Begin there and work your way forward.

  3. NetatEDU 2008…

    I attend the annual Educause Net@EDU…

  4. […] FCC’s rules for the D Block spectrum, which would have required the winner to negotiate the building of a network that would be jointly […]

  5. […] FCC’s rules for the D Block spectrum, which would have required the winner to negotiate the building of a network that would be jointly […]

  6. NetatEDU Feb 10…

    Network Policy Council…

  7. NetatEDU 10 Feb 08…

    Network Policy Council…

  8. paul

    major reason, public safety are having difficulty getting what they really need, which is secure digital equipment, is because amateur radio people are hogging valuable spectrum for private use such as using them as personal long distance cordless phone, private communication, etc. Frequency spectrum allocated to Ham radio are allocated more than 50 years ago, right after WW2, when there were no cell phone or internet, or wireless smart phone. HR607 is intending to re-assign some of the most under utilized ham radio frequency. Many people don’t realize Ham radio have more frequency spectrum than all of the cellular phone company put together. –> http://www.arrl.org/frequency-allocations

  9. @ paul, your comments on amateur radio are too inaccurate and incomplete to address in a short comment.

    on D block for public safety:

    700 MHz is not the best part of the spectrum for all public safety users. In hilly Tennessee, for example, UHF frequencies currently in use (~450-470 MHz) don’t cover the terrain well — especially the UHF channels above 450 MHz. 700 MHz will be worse. Tennessee State Patrol still uses high-powered repeaters in the LOW VHF range, (46-49 MHz), which fills in valleys better, and penetrates vegetation ( a big problem in summer) MUCH better than high VHF or — especially — UHF and above.

    Independent of serviceability, the cost of replacing equipment to move these services to 700 MHz will be huge, and in light of current economic circumstances, prohibitive. Some urban jurisdictions may have some money for that, but your typical volunteer fire department, or county sheriff’s department? Not likely.

    Add to that, the stated need after 9/11 for “interoperability,” and these departments and services will be turning their pockets wrong-side-out even sooner.

Leave a Comment