D Block - One year at the FCC

What has happened: The D Block--a 10 MHz chunk of the 700 MHz band--is in just as much a state of limbo as it was roughly this time last year. The FCC's national broadband plan calls for re-auctioning the spectrum and getting Congress to earmark $12 billion to $16 billion to build out a network during the next 10 years.

Jamie Barnett, the chief of the FCC's Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, told Reuters in March that the FCC could issue a notice of inquiry about the re-auction as soon as "early" summer for an auction next year, but so far no order has been issued. Then the lobbying started.

In June, a coalition of public-safety groups called Public Safety Alliance ratcheted up its lobbying efforts to get the D Block allocated directly to public safety instead of being auctioned off. That position is backed by AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ), both of which are building LTE networks in the 700 MHz band.

Then in July, the entire process got even more complicated when Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), introduced legislation for the network that does not feature a D-Block re-auction. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also proposed similar legislation.

What's next: The tumult of activity has put the FCC in a bind, analysts and public interest group representatives said. "The thing they don't really seem to have gathered at the FCC is just how large the divisions have become in the wireless world," said Harold Feld, the legal director of Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy think tank. "CTIA can't speak for everyone. AT&T and Verizon are much more interested in keeping spectrum away from Sprint (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile than getting spectrum for themselves."

The FCC insists it is committed to re-auctioning the D Block and getting a network built. Ruth Milkman, chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, said that some of the auction proceeds will be used to fund the network's construction, and that a re-auction would save up to $9 billion. 

However, David Kaut, an analyst ay Stifel Nicolaus, said Rockefeller's legislation threw up a stop sign for the FCC. "I don't see anything happening on this in the near term," he said, adding that the picture is clouded by the November mid-term elections, in which one or both houses of Congress could switch back to Republican control.

D Block - One year at the FCC
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