What does public safety do now?
The 700 MHz auction ended last week, with Verizon and AT&T emerging as the big winners and public safety emerging as the big loser. The D Block, which was designed to offer a public/private partnership that would serve both consumers and public safety, giving them priority access during emergencies, failed to meet its $1.3-billion reserve price. Subsequently, the FCC de-linked the D Block from the rest of the auction and has plans to make the spectrum available before the DTV transition in February of next year.
The question is, will the FCC try this public/private partnership once again? If it does, it needs to make the terms more attractive for an entity willing to bid on the spectrum. A $1.3-billion reserve price is quite a risk for any company embarking on this unproven strategy. Clearly, investors see it as a risky proposition. Frontline had planned on building this nationwide, high-speed wireless network for public safety officials, but even with the backing of L. John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, as well as other supporters, the company raised enough for the $128 million down payment, but not enough for the $1.3 billion reserve price on the spectrum. Subsequently, Frontline closed its doors before the auction began.
If the FCC changes its terms and creates almost a spectrum give-away to the entity willing to build this public/private network, you can bet we'll see protests and legal maneuverings from the winners who bid billions to secure their spectrum. Meanwhile, public safety once again languishes, with no solution in sight to the interoperability problem that has been plaguing that industry for years. -Lynnette