By now you should be well-aware of how the 700 MHz D Block turned out: Qualcomm was the sole bidder for the airwaves but did not bid enough to meet the reserve price. Now the FCC has to decide what to do with the D block that was supposed to be part of a commercial and first responder shared network, with first responders having priority.

The commission did itself no favors in this regard by keeping the auction's anti-collusion terms in place until April 3 — instead of having them expire on March 29, as everyone expected — because that prevented a meeting of high-level executives representing commercial operators, vendors, public safety and other interested parties.

The meeting to discuss the future of the D Block and the proposed nationwide network that would ride on it could have been held at CTIA 2008, the largest wireless conference and exposition in the U.S., which — ironically — was held from March 29 through April 3.

Here's what I would have proposed at the meeting that should have happened, but unfortunately didn't, had I been in attendance:

  • That the D block go back out to bid with no anti-collusion restrictions.
  • That an agreement be put in place prior to the bidding.
  • That bidders would be network management companies rather than commercial network operators — the winner would coordinate the commercial side of the efforts to build and operate the network.
  • That the consortium be expanded to include the NRTC and the RCA so rural broadband would be included in the system design from the start.
  • That all of the U.S. network operators take part in the buildout and be awarded tax credits from the federal government, depending on how much of the network they built out.
  • That the network be set up to run a common, world-standard, fourth-generation technology.
  • That the PSST and its representatives would have to deal only with the network management company, and one representative each from the NRTC (or RCA), the DHS, the FCC and the NTIA.

Obviously, there are many more concerns that need to be addressed, but these are the first issues that would need to be sorted out. The politics will be more important than the technology if this project is to be successful, and someone with an understanding of both the commercial and first responder worlds needs to help shape the project so it has a chance of succeeding.

What are the benefits of this type of collaboration? Here are a few:

  • The first responder community gets a world-class network in a timely fashion.
  • The commercial community gets tax breaks for being part of the system.
  • The rural telecommunications organizations get broadband they can sell into homes and businesses and for mobile data services (with voice later).
  • The public gets a break on the cost of this system because costs are shared among a number of companies.
  • The systems get built faster because more companies are involved.
  • The federal government makes money from the auction of the spectrum.
  • All of the network operators gain access to a pool of spectrum in areas where they need more data capabilities as their own networks become more congested.
  • Perhaps in some areas where demand is lower, a wholesale model is permitted so new companies can become involved in wireless broadband services.

I fully realize that this is an ambitious undertaking, but I am an optimist and believe it can be done. I hope someone will try to pull this together because I believe the only way a commercial/first responder partnership can happen is for commercial entities to work together for the common good.

Is that too much to ask?


Andrew Seybold is president and CEO of wireless consultancy Andrew Seybold Inc. in Santa Barbara, Calif. E-mail him at aseybold@andrewseybold.com.