White House: Give D Block to public safety

The Obama administration has backed a plan to allocate the D Block of the 700 Mhz band of spectrum directly to public-safety groups, a position at odds with the FCC's strategy to re-auction the spectrum. The action also puts the Obama administration on the side of a coalition of first-responder organizations as well as AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ).

The proposal is part of the administration's pledge to deliver high-speed wireless access to 98 percent of all Americans within five years. The administration is expected to request that Congress set aside billions of dollars from spectrum auctions of broadcast airwaves to help build the public-safety network. The decision comes days after Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) reintroduced legislation that would allocate the D Block to public safety.

The FCC said it is open to working with the White House on its proposal. "The White House has proposed a national wireless initiative that will help unleash new spectrum through incentive auctions, expand next-generation wireless broadband coverage across the country and implement and pay for a nationwide interoperable public-safety network," a senior FCC official told FierceWireless. "We share these goals and, like the president, believe they are essential to our global competitiveness, economic growth and innovation. We look forward to working with Congress and the administration in the months ahead on the specific."

A coalition of public-safety groups has been lobbying for months to get the D Block into public safety's hands. The coalition, formally called Public Safety Alliance, is a project of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, but also includes the National Sheriffs' Association and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

The White House's position is at odds with that of Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), T-Mobile USA and smaller carriers, which have urged the FCC to auction the D Block spectrum and require licensees to share the resulting network with public safety.

The FCC voted earlier this week to require that the public-safety network use LTE as its standard. The agency is seeking comment on the network's interoperability, coverage requirements, security and encryption, and interference prevention.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article
- see this NYT article
- see this BTIG blog post (reg. req.)

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