The FCC’s plan to re-auction 10 MHz of the 700 MHz broadcast spectrum – also called the D Block – has drawn fire from a consortium of public safety professionals. The Public Safety Alliance (PSA) voiced their concerns in the paper “House of Cards: FCC’s Capacity White Paper Built on Assumptions and Conjecture,” published this past July.
“The Commission’s white paper, which should have been completed before the NBP [the FCC’s National Broadcast Plan] was released, was requested by public safety and industry leaders five months ago,” the PSA statement said. “The paper was developed without meaningful input from the public safety community, and is built on a foundation of assumptions and conjecture.”
Despite its objections, however, the PSA stated the FCC plan represents an ideal launch point as an ongoing forum for the interests and requirements of the public safety community and the technology sectors impacting it.
Robert C. Kenny, director of the FCC’s media relations and communications, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said the FCC plans an auction of the D block as soon as the third-quarter of 2011. “Building the network will cost $6.5 billion over the next 10 years if we start now,” he said. “If Congress decides to devote auction proceeds to the network, auctioning the D Block will jumpstart the construction of the network and catch the technological wave.”
Kenny asserts the FCC’s plan essentially provides a resolution to address potential network capacity concerns, and provides public safety with dependability and back-up support, which he stated does not exist with a network of combined public safety and D Block spectrum.
“We stand by our white papers on network capacity and cost-efficiencies for construction of the network and put forth a National Broadband Plan that includes significant input from the public safety community,” he explained. “[I]f the network cannot leverage commercial networks and infrastructure then there will not be a nationwide public safety network and unfortunately rural America and some smaller cash-strapped cities will not be able to afford the network for their first responders.”
“The FCC is considering next steps,” Kenny said. “A rulemaking proceeding will have to be started before year’s end setting the regulatory framework for an auction as an initial step in that process.”.
Clamoring for Additional Spectrum
Sascha Meinrath, research director of the Washington, DC-based New America Foundation, is skeptical the FCC plan will move forward as announced. “What’s abundantly clear – given that it’s now 18 months later and things haven’t really moved forward – is that the FCC is in no actual hurry get public safety spectrum into the hands of public safety officials,” he said. “Instead the FCC seems to be holding out for a nationwide public safety network that will never get built without public investment. However, even were this network to be built, it’s remarkably shortsighted to create a single-use network in the first place and would be far better to support a mixed-use network where public safety communications are prioritized.”
“It’s stunning that public safety officials in numerous municipalities have been clamoring for additional spectrum and the FCC has simply failed to move to fulfill this need. Instead of crafting a viable plan that would allow those who are ready to move forward immediately, the FCC has perseverated for years — crafting a position that they have no plan to actually implement. I believe that the FCC should get spectrum into the hands of public safety officials immediately while making it clear that this spectrum will be mixed use. By setting general specifications and that public safety devices must be interoperable, the FCC can at least begin the process of creating a more integrated public safety communications system,” he said.
Meinrath continued: “Public safety officials have been getting a hard lesson about what happens when you have a “do-nothing FCC” — one that focuses on process to the exclusion of actually making the hard decisions necessary to support the public interest.”
New Thinking Needed
Meinrath stated that the FCC should immediately implement a plan to get spectrum to the municipalities that want to use this spectrum for public safety. “They should make it clear that spectrum use must prioritize public safety communications, but should also ensure that the spectrum is made available on a secondary basis for other uses,” he said.
“Public safety officials may balk at the notion of sharing spectrum,” Meinrath continued. “[B]ut they too need to adapt their thinking to current technical realities. Mixed use would greatly lower the costs of public safety equipment, help support additional network buildout, and ensure that spectrum that’s needed for emergencies 1 percent of the time isn’t laying fallow the remaining 99 percent.”
“New thinking about shared use is needed by both the FCC and public safety officials. Mixed use with a priority for public safety communications is a pragmatic solution that also supports the overarching goals of creating ubiquitous, interoperable, public safety networks; lowering deployment and equipment costs for this network; and providing additional spectrum assets for use by the general public. It’s a win-win-win for public safety, the FCC, and the general public,” he said.
Tabassum Rahmani ([email protected]) writes from Dublin, California.
PSA white paper: http://www.psafirst.org/uploads/documents/PSA_House_of_Cards_Report_070210-1.pdf