Urgent Matters

Why this week’s FCC meeting matters to publc safety

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Despite their consumer-oriented nature, two items on the upcoming FCC agenda regarding the 600 MHz incentive auction and net-neutrality rules are worthy of public safety's attention.

Early this year, the FCC focused much of its attention on overtly public-safety issues, initiating proceedings regarding the implementation of text-to-911 functionality and improving location accuracy associated with 911 communications from wireless devices. On Thursday, the FCC will consider a couple of items that appear to be commercial in nature, but both could have significant impacts on public-safety communications.

One of these items calls for commissioners to vote on rules that could limit the ability for large wireless carriers, like AT&T and Verizon, to bid on 600 MHz spectrum in next year’s incentive auction because of those carriers’ already-significant holdings of sub-1 GHz frequencies. While there are nuances in the proposal, the idea of such rules is to prevent AT&T and Verizon from dominating the incentive auction in the manner that they did in the 700 MHz auction a few years ago, thereby allowing smaller carriers to grab the licenses to the valuable airwaves.

From a public-safety perspective, the key issue is that the incentive auction generate enough revenue to pay for the relocation of TV broadcasters to clear the spectrum and leave enough money to ensure that the U.S. Treasury can deliver the $7 billion earmarked for FirstNet. Completely unfettered bidding by all providers theoretically should generate the most revenue for FirstNet, according to most analysts.

On the other hand, there is a thought that public-safety agencies would benefit from having as many choices as possible until FirstNet is deployed in their areas (and as many potential roaming partners as possible after FirstNet is deployed), so rules designed to enhance competition to AT&T and Verizon might not be all bad.

Another item on Thursday’s agenda revolves around the notion of “Net Neutrality” and “open Internet”—a controversy surrounding the notion that broadband providers should be prohibited from reducing data speeds for certain applications, particularly those that have not paid extra fees to ensure prioritized transmission. Past efforts by the FCC to establish such a legal regime have been struck down by the courts.

This is largely a consumer-oriented question, so we’re not going to address the legal ramifications involved in this (and there are tons). However, the FCC is expected to ask whether broadband should be treated and regulated like a utility, such as electricity and water providers.

From a usage standpoint, an argument certainly can be made that broadband is a utility—it is no longer a simple luxury; it is a core service for many Americans. However, in a legal sense, broadband does not meet the normal criteria typically associated with a regulated utility: the existence of only one physical way to get the service.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

GBH (not verified)
on May 13, 2014

One of the great things about the web and commercial broadband, is that it is in private hands. Because of that, it is a field that is full of highly competitive, cost effective, and innovative choices nearly everywhere.

The idea of making this a utility, with its bureaucracies and regulations and fees really scares me. Fees and regulations have helped dig the grave for wireline telephone, and now the same is being considered for the competitive, tax revenue generating, innovating, broadband industry. A few years of those regulations and fees will eliminate all but the officially government sanctioned broadband supplier in each area. Instead of being huge net tax payers, the broadband provider and its bureaucracy will feed at the government trough like all other regulated programs-furthering the national debt.

In an era of government overreach, here is a super example. Keep broadband in private hands where there is competition and paid taxes!

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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