link to storySomething stinks about the recent Federal Communications Commission auction to build wireless networks for the nation's emergency responders. The short version appears to be that a nonprofit group, the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, hired by the nation's 55,000 public safety agencies, was trying to shake down the companies that won the federal airwaves auction. The shake down money was allegedly headed for the fire and police agencies.
The apparent scheme surfaced when FCC officials realized the powerful 700 megahertz spectrum was not bringing the kind of bids expected. It drew only $472 million, well below the estimate of $1.3 billion the FCC rated as the value of the spectrum.
The low-ball bid has drawn heavy criticism from the 9/11 Commission, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and nine other organizations, all of which have demanded a full investigation. Congress has also gotten involved and wants hearings next month.
The auction was for the broadcast spectrum television stations will relinquish next year when they all flip over to digitized broadcasting. The 700 megahurtz frequencies would be powerful tools for police, fire and ambulance crews because they can penetrate buildings and thick walls, something the current 800 megahertz systems have difficulty doing without boosted signals. Going to 700 megahertz was a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission after rescue personnel in the World Trade Center attack couldn't communicate with each other.
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin has said the commission could vote within days to rebid the public safety airwaves. Mr. Martin also wants his inspector general to investigate the allegations.
But that shouldn't stop Congress from calling for a full review to find out what really was behind the low-ball bids from the as-yet-announced winners.