The Spectrum Alphabet

For folks unfamiliar with the concept of “radiofrequency spectrum,” it wasn’t easy to comprehend what the heck the “D block” was and why it was so important for public safety.  Think of spectrum like highways – some are wider than others, some are better paved, some have more traffic, some are more direct, etc.  But instead of carrying vehicles, spectrum carries our voice and data communications over the air.  Historically, the FCC has collected certain frequency spectrum bands into “blocks” and labeled them after alphabetic letters for convenience of reference.  So the “D block” was a particular group of airwaves – a certain highway – that happened to be conveniently unoccupied and ran right next to an existing set of frequencies that public safety already possessed.  That’s why the D block presented public safety with a perfect opportunity to have the spectrum resources necessary for a successful communications network.

The public safety community was victorious in lobbying for legislation, enacted earlier this year, that provided this D block to public safety, created the First Responder Network Authority (“FirstNet”), and set the course for the deployment of an advanced, wireless public safety broadband network.  In fact, pursuant to this legislation, the D block has now become assigned to FirstNet and no longer needs to be labeled after a letter of the alphabet. 

But we’re not yet done with spectrum blocks.  The legislation that created FirstNet also provided a significant sum of funding, up to $7 billion, to implement the network.  This funding is to come from future auctions of spectrum that will be used for commercial wireless services.  In fact, the legislation made it clear that the proceeds from these auctions are to go directly toward fulfilling the $7 billion slated for the nationwide public safety broadband network.  In other words, Congress required that the revenues from these auctions serve the wireless broadband needs of public safety.

One of the first spectrum blocks to go up for auction will be the “H” block.  No need to go into the details of the H block, but suffice to say that, consistent with the legislation, reports indicate that the Federal Communications Commission will be proposing an auction of the H block to occur in 2013.  We care about the proceeds of this auction because the more that is received – which depends upon how valuable potential bidders view the H block – the better for public safety.  By maximizing the revenue from the H block auction, and the auction of other spectrum that the legislation specifies to fund the public safety network, the public safety community is best assured that the full amount of the $7 billion will be available to fund the FirstNet nationwide network.