June 21, 2008, 12:03 PM — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission should not attempt to re-auction a piece of wireless spectrum that failed to sell earlier in the year, but instead should give that spectrum to emergency-response agencies, the New York City Police Department said Friday.
The FCC nearly doubled its congressionally mandated goal of raising US$10 billion in the 700MHz spectrum auctions, and instead of re-attempting to sell the so-called D block of spectrum, the agency should turn the 10MHz block over to public safety agencies, wrote NYPD Deputy Chief Charles Dowd in a filing to the FCC.
The FCC had wanted the D block to be paired with another 10MHz of spectrum already controlled by public-safety agencies in a nationwide voice and broadband network shared by public safety and commercial users. Under the original FCC plan, the winning bidder would have had to build the multi-billion-dollar nationwide network, but the FCC failed to get the $1.3 billion minimum bid it had designated, receiving only one bid for $472 million.
"There is simply no business case for a commercial wireless network operator to build a nationwide network that will meet public safety coverage and survivability standards," Dowd wrote in the filing. "Potential bidders are reluctant to bid due to the enormous costs to construct the network coupled with the uncertainty of the public safety requirements that they would be required to meet."
Friday was the deadline for groups to file comments to the FCC on what to do with the D block.
Dowd noted that New York and Washington, D.C., have already moved forward on their own new public safety networks. The cities have "elected to construct their own broadband public safety data networks rather than to wait for the deployment of a Nationwide network that may never materialize," he wrote.
Meanwhile, the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), the nonprofit group of public safety agencies that control the second 10MHz block, took a different approach from the NYPD. The PSST called on the FCC to reduce or eliminate the minimum price of the D block in a new auction. The FCC should also allow the second-place bidder to take control of the spectrum if the winner is unable to build the network, the PSST said in its filing.
Finally, the FCC should ensure that the PSST can raise operating money, the nonprofit group said. In the first auction, there was controversy about the PSST asking for lease payments from potential bidders for its 10MHz block of spectrum, with some critics saying that drove away bidders. But lease payments remain the most likely way to raise money, wrote PSST chairman Harlin McEwen.
"Because the bulk of the spectrum likely will be used by the D Block licensee to provide services from which it expects to realize a profit, the PSST believes it logically should obtain most of its funding from the lease payment," McEwen added.
The D block auction was watched closely because many U.S. lawmakers and public-safety officials pushed for a nationwide network to be created after many emergency responders couldn't communicate with each other during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Police and fire departments in neighboring cities often use different communication devices on different blocks of spectrum and a nationwide network for them has been a top priority of the FCC and several lawmakers.
Rivada Networks, a company that currently builds broadband and voice networks for public-safety agencies, encouraged the FCC to allow the public-safety agencies to begin building networks in the 700MHz spectrum before a new auction is completed.
"These public safety deployable systems must have priority over any eventual D-block licensee that may seek to build network infrastructure in the public safety 700 MHz spectrum," Rivada said in its filing on Friday. "The commission should make clear -- prior to any re-auction-- that the D-Block licensee will have no more than secondary access to the public safety 700 MHz spectrum. That is, the D-Block licensee may not cause any interference to, and must accept any interference from, public safety deployables operating in the public safety 700 MHz spectrum."