FCC proposes new plan to auction D-Block

The FCC voted on Thursday to move ahead with plans to auction the 700 MHz D-block spectrum and create a national interoperable network for first responders, setting the stage for a possible final ruling later this year.

The proposed plan would create three alternate sets of D-Block spectrum--one for a national network and two regional networks. The minimum bid for the spectrum will be $750 million, a significant decrease from the minimum bid of $1.3 billion that was required for the D-Block in the initial 700 MHz auction earlier this year.

With the possible regional coverage, rules were proposed that would require the license winners to have 40 percent of a region covered four years after a license was awarded, 75 percent built out after 10 years and between 90 and 98 percent built out after 15 years. The regional bids may be reduced below the $750 million threshold if certain specific circumstances warrant it.

Three members of the five-member commission--Chairman Kevin Martin and commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell, voted to approve the measure. Two commissioners, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, expressed deep concerns with the proposal, but voted to concur.

Once the proposed ruling is entered into the Federal Register, which could happen in approximately a week, there will be a 30 day comment period and 10 days for responses. Martin said the earliest an auction could take place would be six to seven months after a final ruling has been made.

Copps raised his concerns and said the FCC had tried once before to sell this spectrum to commercial interests and had failed, and that this was the last chance to get the process done right. But he worried that commercial interests would not be able to come up with sufficient capital to actually build the infrastructure needed for the networks, given the current financial crisis engulfing Wall Street. "Finding money in the hallowed canyons of Wall Street or anywhere else to get this network built makes Indiana Jones' searchings look like child's play," he said.

But Martin said the job of the FCC was not to continue finding issues to quarrel about, noting that the tension between choosing a national network or regional networks had been known for months, but rather that it was the commission's job to find answers.

"One of the things we're asking in today's items is when should we do the auction in light of the problems. But I don't think we should be delaying trying to figure out what is the right answer as far what service they should be providing the public safety," he told reporters after the meeting had ended. "And that's what is important and that's what we're focusing on today. I do think that there's some disagreement among public safety. I think one of the points of trying to put forward an item today is to try to make sure we're getting all the comments and feedback we can from public safety and from the potential commercial providers."