What will become of the D Block? page 2

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"One component there is our sense is that it wouldn't provide the overall and ongoing funding that would be needed to really engage a network like this," said George Rice Jr., APCO's executive director.

"I think that the first thing is, just about anyone you talk to in financial markets will tell you that there's just no likelihood of a successful auction for the partnership for any time in the near future," said Harold Feld, legal director at consumer advocacy organization Public Knowledge.

Unanswered questions

Right now, there are more questions than answers when it comes to what happens next, including if and when Congress will act and how much the plan will cost. Zipperstein estimated in April that the plan could cost between $15 billion and $20 billion, but that the expense would be defrayed by using existing network infrastructure. Rice said it was too difficult right now to pin down an exact cost estimate.

"I guess the primary challenge is not having a clear path in front of us," Rice said.

McEwen said lobbying on the topic will get underway in the next few weeks, but conceded that the "effort hasn't really commenced yet."

"One of the biggest challenges is that the Congress is very well engaged in a pretty major activity," he said, in a nod to the nation's raucous health care debates. "It's going to be difficult to get others to pay attention to this."

Another potential unknown is the FCC's role in all of this. Robert Kenny, a spokesman for the FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau, said that the matter is still pending.

"We're looking at how the 700 MHz proceeding fits into the national broadband plan, what are some of the questions, and what we can do as part of a regulatory framework," he said.

Even if Congress decided to direct the FCC to go ahead with public safety's proposal, it's not clear how an RFP process would be set up and how long it would take. Rice said it could take several months for a plan to be studied, debated and put into place. "I would hate to speculate beyond that because there are so many variables to the process," he said.

Looming over the RFP process itself are Verizon and AT&T, whose market position and spectrum dominance could give them a distinct advantage in the process. Feld acknowledged that the plan "absolutely reinforces Verizon's and AT&T's dominance in the 700 MHz band."

Verizon disagrees with the premise that it will hold an unfair advantage. Zipperstein said there are numerous players that won 700 MHz spectrum, and that the public-safety community could decide which partners best meet their needs. "In my view, there will be plenty of opportunity for a whole range of players to participate in serving public safety's needs," he said.

McEwen said that the process will not favor larger companies over smaller ones. "I think the FCC is going to be very careful to look at this very cautiously," he said. "We have no firm agreements with anybody. We don't have any sense of what Verizon and AT&T may be thinking or may do."

Despite such concerns, there seems to be momentum toward resolving the issue.

"This is classic case of: Nobody wanted to be here, but now that we're here, what the heck are we going to do?" Feld said.

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