FCC May Open Public-Safety Spectrum Block For Commercial Purposes

Wireless Tower

The FCC is working on a plan that would sell a chunk of spectrum in the first half of 2011 that failed to be sold in 2008 because of the strict conditions of use.

The spectrum, which was earmarked for public-safety use, may now have different terms and conditions, if any are to be attached. Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, told Reuters that the FCC could issue a notice of inquiry “early summer” but a final decision has not been made.

An auction would help T-Mobile USA, which doesn’t have the capacity on its current networks to roll out 4G services, like its major rivals AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless.

The auction may be instrumental because it could come to market much faster than the FCC’s proposal announced earlier this week as part of the National Broadband Plan. However, it represents a drop in the bucket for what’s needed over the long-term. In the FCC’s plan unveiled this week, it has the goal of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum to be available in 10 years with 300 MHz coming within five. This chunk in the D-block represents only 10 Mhz.

The band was originally intended for police and fire during emergencies after networks failed during such events as 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina. Now the FCC is telling emergency officials that public safety workers would have access to the entire band “when necessary, and carriers that hold licenses in that band will be compensated accordingly,” Reuters (NYSE: TRI) reports. The FCC will have to ask Congress to fund the network, which could cost between $12 billion and $16 billion and take 10 years.

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