On November 13, the FCC opened the bidding for valuable AWS-3 spectrum. This is the second of three auctions whose proceeds will go towards funding FirstNet (the First Responder Network Authority), deficit reduction, and other public safety broadband communications efforts like next generation 911 and public safety research and development projects. The auction is happening as we speak, but the story started long ago.
In 2008 the FCC attempted to auction the “D Block” with the intent of a wireless carrier buying the rights to the spectrum under the condition of supporting a public safety broadband network (the D Block is adjacent to a chunk of spectrum already allocated for public safety use). No participants were willing to bid enough to hit the reserve price set by the FCC and so the auction (and hopes for a public safety network) failed.
Public safety then rallied to lobby Congress to re-allocate the D Block to public safety to give them a contiguous 10x10 block of 700MHz spectrum to host a dedicated public safety broadband network and also legislate a funding mechanism. In 2012 the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act did just that. In addition to allocating the D Block to public safety, the legislation mandated a series of spectrum auctions that would fund the build out of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) and created FirstNet to be responsible for the deployment and management of the network. The revenue from the auctions is to be placed into a “Public Safety Trust Fund” after re-location costs are recovered for the Federal agencies that will have to be re-located to free up the spectrum being auctioned.
Auction Progress to Date
After 29 rounds, the AWS-3 auction has topped $35B. The FCC had set the reserve price for this spectrum at $10 Billion, which means that proceeds are going to far surpass the reserve price and meet all requirements for FirstNet funding and other critical public safety broadband communications efforts at NTIA, NIST, and Next Gen 911.
The 600 MHz auction (aka the incentive auctions), originally slated to occur in late 2014 has now been pushed to 2016 and will generate even more revenue for the Public Safety Trust Fund and deficit reduction.
While there are still logistical hurdles to jump through, the future is looking bright for FirstNet and the public safety community.