The FCC’s Regulatory Mulligan: Exploring the Options in the Wake of a Failed D Block Auction

June 16, 2012

In March 2008, the Federal Communications Commission auctioned licenses to sizeable tracts of radio frequency spectrum that will be vacated due to the analog-to-digital television conversion to occur in June 2009. The Commission conditioned the license to one portion of this spectrum—the “D Block”—on an unprecedented requirement: for the licensee to work hand-in-hand with public-safety agencies in a “public/private partnership” to deploy a nationwide public-safety communications network. At auction, the D Block garnered only minimal interest from prospective bidders and missed its reserve price by a wide margin. This failure drew the ire of policymakers, the telecommunications industry, and the public-safety community alike. The Commission subsequently reviewed its options but ultimately decided to reauction the D Block with a modified public/private partnership requirement designed to entice more bidders. Nevertheless, in pursuing this goal, the Commission should refuse to lower D Block network performance requirements and should ensure that the public-safety community gets the earliest and most complete access to a deployed D Block network.