D Block Rides Again! And the NPRM Is Already Released!

If I weren’t generally pleased with my quick flip through of the Commission’s Latest Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on D Block, I would declare it a true sign of the coming of the Apocalypse. Amidst the Mighty Earthquakes, the Great Whirlwinds, and other terrible signs and wonders, THE FCC RELEASED A NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING ON THE SAME DAY AS THE OPEN MEETING!!!! Tremble all ye telecom whores Babylon, for the Day of Judgment is surely upon us!

I must also take the opportunity to give a huge THANK YOU to Commissioner Copps and whoever else got us a full 30 days for comment and 15 days for reply. Because given how impossible it will be to met these deadlines, I shudder to think what would have happened on an “accelerated” schedule.

A bit more below . . . .

Taking the tenor of the Commission as expressed in the separate statements, I would say the Commission is pretty much united around the following principles:

1) We all want to see a working public/private partnership that gets the network built and serves the interests of public safety.

2) None of us really knows how to make this happen. We hope someone out there who writes real fast knows how and can tell us what to do…preferably by next month.

3) One thing we do know, no more of this “we’ll make up the specs and network requirements as we go along” crap. Before this goes to auction, we will make damn sure we get the business arrangements of the D Block partnership nailed down.

4) Did we mention we’re hoping someone out there has some bright ideas?

This is not to say there weren’t some points of gentle contention. It is clear the Dems are less interested in junking the concept of a public/private partnership if the D Block fails to sell again, and expressed concern that the NPRM tentatively concludes that the 10 MHz of commercial spectrum might be auctioned separately and the public/private partnership dissolved if the next attempt at an auction fails. (As I’ve written before, I think it is not really technically feasible to split the commercial off from the public safety spectrum at this point.) Still, given the real enthusiasm for this option by some Congressional Republicans, I understand the incentive for Martin to push this approach as “Plan B.” It also gives Martin a chance to get a strong record built of why it can’t be done, which is useful politically if he has to once again say “no” to senior Congressional Republicans.

I also note that Martin is now officially “Mr. Transparent Public Process Guy,” having committed in his separate statement to a third and more detailed Notice of Proposed Rulemaking when they actually may have some clue how to proceed and to holding an open en banc hearing on this. As I have said many times, Martin is absolutely the prize pupil of the Bush Administration and is once again the odds on favorite to win the coveted “Least Flat Learning Curve” Award (given each year to that deserving member of the Bush Administration who actually learns form experience and, when confronted by similar circumstances, does not insist on screwing up in exactly the same way as last time).

I need to take some time to actually read in depth to form my own view on the substance. I can, however, say two things right now.

1) It looks like the FCC is willing to look once again at mandatory wholesale as a possible model (or trying to create conditions to encourage wholesale). Obviously, having supported this previously, I think it would be a very good thing.

2) There appears to be a lot less pressure about jacking up auction revenue. Good. We need a better spectrum policy than “show me the money.”

And, lest you think I have grown soft and unsnarky, a TOTSF bonus gripe!

3) The FCC notes that our Petition for Reconsideration, and about ten others, is still pending. Thank you Percepto from the Masters of the Obvious ™ collection!!! Bravo! I applaud you! How lovely to know they are not forgotten. I hope you and the rest of the bureau are keeping them in fresh water by a window and enjoying their delightful bloom in the bright happy swamp that is DC in spring. Any chance you might actually…oh…I don’t know….resolve them soon?

More later after I read the thing in detail.

Stay tuned . . . .


  1. There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings surrounding this issue. Two in particular appear in almost every story or speech on this, although blessedly not in yours above.

    1. “Interoperability.” A prominent one is that the creation of a wireless broadband access network has something to do with interoperability. It doesn’t, anymore than building any new network is about interoperability — unless everyone will be on that network — which is never going to happen. The key to interoperability is getting different new and legacy systems to communicate with each other, not buying everyone the same radio.

    Interoperability is not going to get solved at the transport layer, other than the conversion of communications into IP at gateways. It will be solved first and foremost at the application layer, which IP makes much easier to do. Use whatever radio access works best for you and your agency, but tie together with my cell phone, and your office wired phone, and Charlie’s old VHF police radio with IP.

    There are lots of good reasons for having a safety broadband network, interoperability is not the driver.

    2. “Wireless broadband network”. Emergency response organizations don’t just need a wireless broadband network. They need broadband networks: terrestrial fixed, wireless and satellite for backup. Why are we only talking about wireless?? The information to be shared wirelessly needs to come from and go to places other than the dispatch headquarters of the radio system.

    And you can’t have a regional or national wireless network without a huge wired network underlying it. Why aren’t we looking at the synergies from combining these two closely connected needs?

    David Aylward
    COMCARE Emergency Response Alliance

  2. David:

    You are absolutely right. And I would add that these two myths add up to a very dangerous third myth: Resolving the current D Block mess “solves” the “public safety problem.” This is rapidly being seen as the solution to all current and future worries rather than as one part of developing our public safety infrastructure.

    Might I suggest that an op ed from you in a major daily would be an excellent way to focus attention on these issues?

  3. Harold: Where did you find the listing of who bid on which blocks in which rounds (which you cite from in your written testimony for the 4/15 House hearing, and give sort of a summary on the C block in the appendix)?

    Very interesting that AT&T actually bid on the C block. I hadn’t heard that before.

  4. DJ: It’s on the FCC’s auction page for Auction 73. You have to download the text files for round-by-round bidding.

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