FCC to Tee Up D Block

FCC to reattempt auction of D block of 700-megahertz spectrum.

The Federal Communications Commission will try once more to auction the D block of spectrum that is being reclaimed from broadcasters in the switch to digital TV, this time with a much lower reserve price and a less-strict build-out schedule for the winning bidders.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin outlined new rules of the road for reauctioning the block, which is to be shared among public safety and a private partner to create an interoperable emergency-communications network.

The commission raised more than $19 billion in its auction of 700-megahertz spectrum earlier this year but failed to get a bidder for the D block.

According to Martin, the FCC will try to auction the spectrum as a block, but also offer it as 58 regional licenses. If a single bidder meets the $750 million reserve price -- about one-half of the D-block reserve in the first auction -- it will have a preference over an amalgam of regional bidders unless all of those licenses are awarded.

If no national bidder emerges, the spectrum will only be doled out if at least 50% of the regional licenses have met their minimum prices. At that point, the minimums for the other 50% will be lowered to try to spur bidding.

The FCC also relaxed the build-out requirements and extended the build-out period from 10 years to 15.

Martin said not to look for the auction until the middle of 2009, and that is assuming that an order can be finished by the end of the year, which he said would be moving fast.