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FCC to Investigate D-Block Auction 54

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the messing-with-the-system dept.
eweekhickins writes "Feds and public interest groups are taking seriously accusations that someone tampered with the wireless spectrum auction process. The block of spectrum that was supposed to go to emergency responders failed to get close to the reserve price, raising suspicions that someone was trying to make money off the Sept. 11 national tragedy. But that would never happen, right?" This is a follow up to last week's allegations.
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FCC to Investigate D-Block Auction

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  • So basically.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kaiser423 (828989) on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:07AM (#22844098)
    They didn't come anywhere close to meeting the 1.3 billion reserve. They fell something like 900 million short. They're not sure why, but they think it might be related to this company that was spreading FUD about charging an extra 50 million on top. Somehow I don't think it's that company.

    The FCC had put in some pretty strong wording about building in first responder capability. It was more than what was typically done in the past, but it didn't seem totally outrageous. I think the problem is that a lot of the wireless carriers are moving towards commodization, and thus low margins. 90% of the population in the US can get good cell service from multiple providers. With low margins, why would you take on a huge risk that could be a brick around your neck? Better to spend the little bit extra and get a chunk of spectrum whose only restrictions were pretty much that you had to use it? I think it's that that piece of the spectrum just isn't worth the hassle if you have to build in tons of first responder equipment also.

    It's just worth only 50% of what they thought it was. Oops, they messed up. But since they messed up big, they have to start an investigation.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:16AM (#22844160) Journal
    I think you have nailed it exactly. First responder network requirements are an absolute brick around the neck. Generator backup for every site for 8 hours is an expensive brick, 24 hours for major sites. There are probably calea requirements also that go beyond normal 'here is the subpoena, not give me the records' kind of thing.

    The requirements on existing networks to support the government(s) during emergency are nearly enough to put you out of business if you have low margins. Imagine how many lights you'd put in your house if you had to supply each with 8 hour battery backup and one outlet in every room with 24 hour battery backup plus data recorders for who used the lights and when.

    Yep, you'd be asking yourself why you want to spend 1.3 Billion Dollars for the privilege of building a network that is 3-10 times more expensive than regular networks. It probably also has to be tied into the latest NSA data dragnet system as well.

    Notoriously, emergency services teams/groups don't really have the funds to pay you extra money for that huge network you built. They like to get things cheaply too, saving your taxpayer dollars and such.
  • by necro81 (917438) on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:25AM (#22844214) Journal
    The summary asks if someone is trying to make money off 9/11. The article makes no such claim - doesn't even allude to it. The only direct mention of 9/11 in the article is that members of the 9/11 Commission are asking the FCC to look into the allegations of fraud and collusion. Is the reference to 9/11 something that the submitter slipped in to try to generate additional interest in the story - like just about every form of media these days (and at least one defunct presidential candidate)?

    The only connection the D-block auction has to 9/11 is the fact that it is meant, not just for a commercial communications network, but also for emergency responders to have access to it as well. The different agencies responding on 9/11 (and in the days that followed) were hampered by the fact that they use different radio systems and had difficulty communicating with one another.
  • by asuffield (111848) <asuffield@suffields.me.uk> on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:34AM (#22844292)

    They didn't come anywhere close to meeting the 1.3 billion reserve. They fell something like 900 million short. They're not sure why, but they think it might be related to this company that was spreading FUD about charging an extra 50 million on top. Somehow I don't think it's that company.


    That's not the point. The allegation is that this company tried to tack on 50 million that would go to them, and that by doing so they rocked the boat enough that people pulled out rather than bid on the block. That's fraud. It doesn't matter whether the potential bids would have been high enough - that just means it was stupid fraud, which is just as illegal.
  • by Kuma-chang (1035190) on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:36AM (#22844310) Journal
    I think you have nailed it exactly. First responder network requirements are an absolute brick around the neck. Generator backup for every site for 8 hours is an expensive brick, 24 hours for major sites. There are probably calea requirements also that go beyond normal 'here is the subpoena, not give me the records' kind of thing.

    You're confusing some things here. The backup power requirement applies to ANY telecom site. Wireless or wireline, any block, any sort of CMRS. They're all subject to the same backup power requirement (at least until the D.C. Circuit rules on the appeal of that requirement). And the D-block requirements have nothing to do with CALEA. CALEA will apply exactly the same to the D-block as to the other blocks in the 700 MHz auction. What made the D-block different is that whichever commercial carrier won the spectrum rights was to work out some arrangement where, in addition to building a commercial network on that spectrum, they would also build capacity for use by public safety agencies.

    What killed the D-block was uncertainty. The FCC put out vague, put potentially onerous, obligations on the D-block. The auction winner's ability to exploit the spectrum was to be dependent on their ability to negotiate out some deal with a big mess of first responder organizations. At the time the FCC didn't seem terribly worried about this because they set everything up along the lines of a plan proposed by Frontline Wireless (a plan that first responders seemed favorably disposed towards), with Frontline's assurances that they would bid past the reserve price and ensure the block was sold. Then Frontline failed to secure the necessary capital to bid for the D-block and had to drop out. Everyone else just looked at the requirement of having to cut some sort of deal with the first responder organizations (who would all be fighting each other for bigger slices of the pie) before exploiting the spectrum and thought, you've got to be kidding me. No fucking way.
  • Re:Same old fraud (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MikeyTheK (873329) on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:40AM (#22844328)
    Then again, maybe it's because the market isn't as large as was hoped. My agency, while constantly evaluating options for radio frequency moves, is not THAT interested in moving. It's really expensive. When you think about base stations, antennas, transmitters, new radios for every piece of apparatus, and radios for every firefighter, medic, EMT, etc., you start talking about a huge chunk of change for each department. Then there are repeaters, trunk gear, etc. In order for a single department to be able to move, they need lots of neighboring departments to move as well, or they're only going to be able to talk to their mutual aid agencies via one channel on a mobile repeater, which sucks. We have that problem now, with neighboring jurisdictions in vastly different tracks of spectrum. Luckily we have some radios in their swath, because the poor blokes who are stuck hitting the repeater are frequently fighting to get a message through. That is not a good situation to have during a Mayday. So the way that this gets done is ten, fifteen, or twenty departments (an entire County, in many cases) will have to all buy new gear at once, retrofit all the towers, apparatus, stations, etc. Since none of the departments can afford to do that anyway, a big fat grant proposal has to be put together, and the funding come from government. For what? I'm not saying that you can't come up with a case justifying such investment, but given that emergency responders are able to effectively answer calls and talk to their comm center now, it's not as easy an argument to make. If you're in an urban setting it makes more sense, because your LOS to a tower is frequently impeded. However, most of the country isn't urban.
  • by mabhatter654 (561290) on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:41AM (#22844338)
    You do realize that POTS has meet all those requirements for 30+ years. They have huge battery backups at the CO so you don't lose phones when the power goes out... they call it CUSTOMER SERVICE, but it's also the rules. They also have rather nasty FBI requirements as well.. Both of which are a good deal easier to implement for a brand new all digital Cell based system that doesn't have to deal with hundreds of miles of copper wire across the country being cut by vandals and trees.

    Those "new" rules will make cell phones almost as reliable as POTS, give or take a few nines.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:50AM (#22844948)
    There are already frequency blocks set aside for emergency services in a variety of different ranges.

    Emergency Agencies can apply for and receive an assigned frequency for free. The capital costs can be expensive. But the frequency is free to use once we get past that. If our neighbor is using a frequency and we work with them, they can give us permission to use their frequency too. System works pretty well. It could be better, but it works.

    Now, the government is going to sell the emergency services spectrum in the 700Mhz range? If emergency agencies want to use 700Mhz, we will be expected to pay a monthly service fee so some private company will make a profit off of emergency services.

    I don't care if it will be a nationwide service. My fire department is in Idaho. They don't need to talk to a police department in Georgia ever.

    If you want to see an interoperable radio system that works, go talk to the National Interagency Fire Center and look at the comms packages they send out with Type I and II Incident Command Teams. They bring all the radios, repeaters, frequencies with them. Everyone of the incident gets issued a pre-programmed radio and a frequency assignment list so that they know how to get hold of each other.

    This 700Mhz plan is worthless. You want to make effective use of the frequency range and not waste local taxes, let us use the frequency for free like the other public service blocks.
  • by zymano (581466) on Monday March 24, 2008 @03:00PM (#22848598)
    Open up the airwaves back to the damn public.

    Allow cheap powerful walkie talkies for the public. The free market will help build public owned towers and we will then have an alternative to government/big business colluding ripoff.

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