Yes, for policy wonks in the summer, this is high drama. Once upon a time, before the 700 MHz auction, we used to have two very clear groups of stakeholders in spectrum policy land. We had public safety on one side and commercial wireless carriers on the other. (We also had us public interest folks, but no one — especially in the Wireless Bureau — gave a crap about us.) While these two groups might disagree internally, they solidified into utterly united and utterly opposing camps when confronting each other — regarding the battle for spectrum as a zero sum game with each side trying to wrestle every last MHz out of the other one.
But the 700 MHz changed all that. It cemented the spectrum advantage of AT&T and Verizon over all other carriers, breaking the commercial world into “AT&T and Verizon” and “carriers who need backhaul, roaming agreements, and special access — all of which they buy from AT&T and Verizon.” And it fractured consensus in the public safety community by creating the enormous loose end known as the “D Block.” As readers may recall (and if they don’t, you can check out my extensive coverage of the 700 MHz auction) the D Block was the private part of a public/private partnership where a private entity would bid and then build out the network, then enter into a sharing agreement with the public safety block. Sadly, for various reasons I will not rehash here, this didn’t work out.
And now, just when it looked like public safety was lining up behind AT&T and Verizon to lobby Congress to reallocate the D Block entirely to public safety, all Hell breaks loose. The “not Verizon and AT&T” wireless carriers have introduced a counter proposal to take back the 12 MHz on the public safety side of the partnership and auction the whole 22 MHz for commercial use as one, unpaired block. And they have received the backing, sort of, of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).
What drama to greet the arrival of Chairman Genachowski and the finally fleshed out full FCC! Commercial wireless carriers at war! Public safety in disarray! Spectrum brother against spectrum brother in the ultimate spectrum policy smackdown!
I analyze the possible deals, the potential winners and losers, and my guesses on odds for success below . . . .
With even Chairman Martin publically agreeing that D Block is unlikely to attract any new bids, the question logically arises — what now? Needless to say, folks have not been shy about voicing their suggestions — especially those who think we ought to focus on maximizing revenue. Instead, I have a novel suggestion. Why don’t we actually investigate what the heck happened first?
More below . . . .
This is a reprint of a piece I just posted on the Public Knowledge Policy Blog.
They should have named the damn thing Phoenix Call, given how often this idea keeps getting resurected. OTOH, it better suits the nature of the beast to name it for creatures whose enticing song lured sailors to their deaths than for one of my favorite characters in Harry Potter.
As I wrote before on the Public Knowledge Blog, Cyren Call wants the FCC to give it 30 MHz of spectrum for free from the returned broadcast analog spectrum set aside for auction. Technically, Cyren Call wants that 30 MHz allocated to a “Public Safety Trust” that would then partner with a private sector organization, but it amounts to the same thing. In exchange, Cyren Call promises to build a nifty national broadband network that would be available to public safety entities when they need it. In order to finance the network without raising taxes or imposing costs on the public safety community, Cyren Call would operate the remaining 99.999% of capacity as a commercial venture. What a bargain! Of course, Cyren Call would kep any profit over and above actual expenses, to give it incentive to run the network “efficiently.”
I wish I did so well from doing good.
You would think that when public safety entities would get suspicious of a proposal that sounds horribly like: “DEAR PUBLIC SAFETY ENTITY. I OFFERING TO YOU MANY MEGAHURTS OF SPECTRUM. CONGRESS RECENTLY PASSED A LAW TO MAKE SPECTRUM AVAILABLE TO COMMERCIAL SECTOR, BUT I THINK YOU SHOULD HAVE IT.” But while Cyren Call has encountered the harsh response from the incumbent wireless harpies, over 1300 “HONEST TRUSTWORTHY PUBLIC SAFETY ENTITY” commentors supported the Cyren Call proposal. Unsurprisingly, most supporting comments from public safety folks emphasized that the part of the proposal they really, really liked was the part about getting even more spectrum.
But Kevin Martin, who seems to be having a “celebrate the incumbent telco harpy” meeting this month, has thrown in an interesting apple of discord. The FCC proposes to create a system similar to Cyren Call, but on the 24 MHz already assigned to public safety rather than grabbing yet more spectrum (you can read the full Order here. In other words, the FCC seems to be saying to the public safety community “O.K., so do you all think this proposal is so wonderful when it doesn’t bring you another 30 MHz of prime spectrum?” Of course, it helps that this plan parallels a plan proposed by Verizon Wireless back in September, which is remarkably simlar to the Cyren Call plan but in the spectrum already allocated to public safety and inserting the words “Verizon Wireless” in every place you had the words “Cyren Call.”
More below . . . .