FCC Seeks Public Input on Public Safety Spectrum

The fate of a public safety network for emergency responder is in your hands.

Well, sort of. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday opened a 30-day public comment period on spectrum that is supposed to be set aside for public safety use.

The highly valuable 700-MHz spectrum, which will allow for wireless broadband capabilities, will become available after the digital TV transition in February 2009. Though the auction attracted more than $19 billion in bids on four of the five available blocks of spectrum, the d-block failed to meet its $1.3 billion reserve price.

A winning d-block bid entitles that company to 10 MHz of spectrum, which they can use in conjunction with 10 MHz of spectrum that Congress awarded to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). The FCC had the option of stripping the d-block of public safety requirements and re-auctioning it without any conditions, but will instead solicit comment from stakeholders on how best to proceed.

How should the d-block rules be revised? Is it in the public interest to retain a public-private partnership between the d-block winner and public safety license holders? Should entities that provide public safety services be the only people who can use the public safety spectrum portion of the shared network?

These are just some of the questions the FCC is looking to have answered. The commission also wants input on license requirements, potential fees, and whether the FCC should ban certain companies from bidding.

“I am pleased that this further notice turns a critical eye on the specific parameters of the partnership, and ways to ensure the commercial viability of this endeavor by providing greater certainty to all parties involved,” FCC chairman Kevin Martin said in a statement.

Martin promised to hold a hearing on the d-block in the near future, and to act “with deliberate speed to address these issues both thoughtfully and quickly.”

“Now that we are not facing a hard-and-fast auction deadline, the right course is to work out the difficult questions in advance–thus providing much needed certainty and predictability to public safety, potential bidders, their investors, the public, the FCC and Congress,” said Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps. “In particular, I hope that parties will be extremely specific in discussing what functions they believe this public safety network needs to fulfill and what network specifications are necessary to meet these needs.”

Harlin McEwen, chairman of the PSST, said in a statement that he hopes the comment period “will result in rules bringing about the right partner to build a shared public safety/commercial network.”