More Demands for Public Safety Spectrum

Last week, I reported on public safety agencies holding up lots of spectrum, preventing Sprint Nextel from getting access to the company’s new electromagnetic home. Today, a variety of public safety agencies are calling for lots more valuable spectrum.

Apparently, the agencies are unhappy with the massive chunk of airwaves, known as the D Block, that was carved out for a private-public safety partnership from the new spectrum opened up by the switch to digital TV. Under the FCC’s D Block proposal, the winning bidder would have been required to use half of the 10mHz block to create a national public safety network. But the auction closed with no bid even approaching the block’s $1.3 billion reserve price. This should not have been surprising, given that blocks auctioned with restrictions on their use sold for much less than freer blocks. The control over the block given to public safety officials made this chunk of spectrum too unattractive to attract such a large bid. (Indeed, public safety representatives’ machinations over the D-Block during the auction may have been ethically questionable.)

The D Block was actually an unnecessary bonus to public safety agencies, who were already given a separate 24mHz of new spectrum out of the switch to digital TV. Ryan Radia will shortly be releasing an OnPoint explaining the folly of assigning so much spectrum to such unproductive uses – and the better public safety outcomes that could be achieved by privitizing the spectrum and allowing public safety agencies to lease spectrum when needed, just like private businesses do. Stay tuned (to any spectrum the government hasn’t squandered)!