FCC, public safety still at odds over D Block

The push to build a nationwide, interoperable public-safety broadband network remains mired in a dispute over whether the FCC should auction the D Block of the 700 MHz band or give it directly to public-safety groups.

At a panel discussion on the issue in Washington, D.C., Jamie Barnett, the FCC's public safety bureau chief, said disagreements among regulators, carriers and public-safety groups could hinder the buildout of the network. "There is an urgency to do this because we have a brief technology window," Barnett said during a panel at the New America Foundation on Wednesday.  

The FCC plans to re-auction the D Block to commercial licensees. Many in the public-safety community instead want the 10 MHz of spectrum in the D Block allocated directly to public safety. The FCC contends that the first responders already have sufficient amounts of spectrum.

The FCC plan lays out several possible conditions for the auction, including a requirement that the D-Block licensee or licensees use a nationally standardized air interface, such as LTE, that public-safety users roam onto and have priority access to adjacent 700 MHz spectrum bands, and that owners of those adjacent bands be compensated for the roaming. Further, D-Block licensees must develop and offer devices that work both on the D Block and the neighboring public-safety broadband spectrum block. Finally, the D-Block licensee or licensees "should be subject to commercially reasonable build-out requirements."

Barnett said in an interview with Reuters that delaying the auction might increase the cost of building out the network to $16 billion, compared with a $6.5 billion cost if the buildout started next year. AT&T (NYSE:T) supports the allocation of the D Block directly to public safety, which some analysts have speculated could be because the company wants to keep the spectrum out of the hands of competitors like Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) or T-Mobile USA.

Richard Mirgon, the president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, reiterated APCO's call for the D Block to be allocated directly to public safety. "We need the additional 10 MHz of the D Block to give us sufficient bandwidth to deal with high-end technology today and future technology for tomorrow," he said in an interview with FierceGovernmentIT. "Until we can resolve that with the FCC, we're still stuck trying to acquire the spectrum we need to move forward."

For more:
- see this FierceGovernmentIT Q&A
- see this Washington Post article
- see this Reuters article

Related Articles:
Q&A: APCO on the D block
FCC grants public-safety agencies waivers to build LTE networks
FCC reveals more details about public safety network plans
What will become of the D Block? 
Seybold's take: It's time for public safety to present a unified plan
FCC plans to begin D Block re-auction process this summer

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