FCC divided on 'H block' spectrum auction

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In a statement, Rosenworcel argued that rushing to auction the H block will mean less government revenue and less money to spend on a public safety network for first responders. 

"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," she said. "I fear this approach fails that test." 

T-Mobile and some small carriers have urged the FCC to auction the H block and AWS 3 at the same time. They explained they are unlikely to bid for H block on its own, but could use it as a fallback if they fail to win AWS 3 spectrum.

Sprint and Dish Network are considered the most likely bidders for H block on its own.

"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," Rosenworcel said. "If that is true, we will have a retail sale—not an auction."

But Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai argued the agency should move ahead as quickly as possible to get the H block to market. 

"I am pleased that the FCC is moving expeditiously to implement Congress’s direction to auction this spectrum, and that we are doing so in a way that ensures substantial revenues will flow to FirstNet," Clyburn said, referring to the nationwide public safety network.

At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last week, Pai expressed concern that there could be "policy and technical challenges" that could delay the auction of AWS 3, which is currently used by federal agencies, including the Defense Department. The H block is currently unused. 

"This spectrum will be ready to be auctioned in just a few months; as the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," Pai said.