FCC to auction 10 MHz in H block for mobile broadband use

Spectrum-starved wireless carriers have been pushing the agency to hold the auction

The Federal Communications Commission plans to auction 10 megahertz of spectrum in the H block (1915-1920 MHz and 1995-2000 MHz) to wireless carriers for mobile broadband services on Jan. 14, the agency announced Friday.

Spectrum-starved wireless carriers have been lobbying the FCC to auction off the spectrum since Congress directed the FCC to license the H block spectrum in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. In the law, Congress directed the FCC to license 65 megahertz of spectrum, including the 10 megahertz in the H block, by February of next year.

The FCC determined that the H block was the easiest spectrum to auction off because it was already earmarked for commercial wireless use and required no further action on its part regarding the allocation.

The agency has set a minimum price for the auction of $1.56 billion, some of which will be given to fund the First Responder Network Authority, which is building out a nationwide mobile broadband network for public safety agencies, Acting FCC Chairwoman Clyburn noted in announcing the auction.

"This will be the first major spectrum auction since 2008, and will help close the spectrum gap as well as contributing to the goal of making mobile broadband available to our nation's first responders," Clyburn added.

Commissioner Ajit Pai agreed: "Bringing this valuable 10 MHz of paired spectrum into the commercial marketplace as soon as possible will benefit Americans in two ways. First, it will help deliver bandwidth-intensive mobile services and applications. Second, the proceeds of the auction will provide much-needed revenue for the First Responder Network Authority to build out a nationwide, interoperable broadband public safety network."

However, not everyone on the commission is supportive of the auction. Commission Jessica Rosenworcel believes that the 10 megahertz of spectrum in the H block should not be split off and auctioned separately from the entire 65 megahertz of spectrum approved for auction by Congress.

"More than twelve years after the horror of 9/11, it is essential that we make smart spectrum choices so that our first responders have the support they need to communicate in times of crisis. I fear this approach fails that test. That is because holding a single auction of all 65 megahertz at once is bound to yield more interest, more bidders, and more revenue than dividing this spectrum up and holding an auction of the 10 megahertz H block alone," Rosenworcel commented.

"As Wall Street analysts have noted, splitting this spectrum up for auction will likely limit interest in the H block to only one, or possibly two bidders. If that is true, we will have a retail sale--not an auction. Moreover, it will mean reduced revenue from this spectrum--and less support for our nation's first responders," she added.

For more:
- see the FCC's public notice
- check out the statements by Clyburn, Pai and Rosenworcel

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