FCC Seeks Comment on D Block Do-over

Absent federal funding to build a nationwide interoperable public safety communications network, a public/private partnership—in which a private entity builds a network that will fit the needs of public safety as well—may be the best option, according to the FCC.

The first time the FCC tried this (this past winter), it failed to get the minimum bid of $1.3 billion to move forward.

In what the commission calls “a sustained commitment to address the nation’s public safety communications challenges,” the FCC Tuesday began seeking additional public comment on how to proceed with the reauction and licensing of the 700 MHz D Block spectrum in question while maximizing the public safety and commercial benefits of a nationwide, interoperable broadband network.

In July 2007, the FCC adopted rules for the 700 MHz Band spectrum that included the creation of a 10-megahertz license in the D Block to be part of a 700 MHz Public/Private Partnership with the adjacent 10 megahertz of spectrum dedicated to a Public Safety Broadband License.

The notice adopted Tuesday asks whether it remains in the public interest, following the 700 MHz Auction, to retain a public/private partnership between the D Block licensee and the Public Safety Broadband Licensee. The Notice also seeks comment on various potential modifications to the current rules governing the public/private Partnership, such as whether only public safety entities will be eligible to use the public safety spectrum portion of the shared network established by the partnership.

Comments are also sought on the technical requirements of the shared wireless broadband network.

The commission approved the notice unanimously, but some warned of the difficulty of the process ahead.

“As I have stated before, I believe the nation’s most prudent response in the terrifying days following 9/11 would have been to build a dedicated, federally-funded, interoperable national broadband network for first responders,” Commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement. “However ... that option is no longer on the table. So I believe the FCC is left with the sobering conclusion that a public-private shared model represents the last, best chance we have at using the 700 MHz spectrum band to improve communications for state and local public safety users. I still believe that today.”

The spectrum is among the frequencies being vacated by full-power analog television broadcasters in February 2009.