Most FCC-designated 700 MHz regional planning committees that have received approval from the commission to utilize their allocations in the band so far have included only narrowband voice channels — accounting for just 12 MHz of the 24 MHz that has been allocated — in their plan submissions. They have postponed any planning regarding their wideband voice channels until a later date.

Obviously, this action is in conflict with those individuals who have overstated that public safety has immediate and necessary broadband needs that could result in a life or death struggle on a shift-to-shift basis if not met.

The action also provides evidence that while broadband capabilities surely are part of public safety's future needs, the first-responder community shouldn't get carried away by its own sales pitch. Instead, the development of these capabilities requires a measured process that ensures public-safety end users' needs are met.

Let's examine the relative merits of a few proposals that promise to address public safety's wireless broadband requirements.

Wireless solutions provider Access Spectrum wants the FCC to realign the existing 700 MHz public-safety allocation by separating the wideband and narrowband portions to integrate the 700 MHz guard band spectrum (both “A” and “B” block) and to create a more technology friendly 700 MHz public-safety band plan that would accommodate the migration from wideband to broadband applications. This proposal requires an adjustment to some 700 MHz regional planning efforts already under way. But it does provide public safety with the rare opportunity to revisit and to adjust the original 700 MHz public-safety band plan while being able to flexibly apply it to existing technology.

Meanwhile, M2Z Networks' proposal mirrors the broadcast television concept, where advertisers pay for the ability to harness a medium and the end user benefits by receiving the desired information at zero cost. In its approach, M2Z would give public safety access to the no-fee, ad-supported portion of its network on a prioritized basis — without having to alter any of its existing voice communications capabilities — using inexpensive equipment that could be purchased through retail outlets.

The IP address of the devices would be provided to M2Z through a national 800 number, which also would be used to verify the public-safety user's access. In this proposal, each device supplements the end user's existing communications capabilities by providing an important adjunct service through which public safety also can incrementally educate itself regarding its broadband needs by leveraging on-the-ground experience.

Finally, Cyren Call proposes to make 30 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum slated for auction next year available to wireless carriers to build out systems based on public-safety specifications for use by their existing customers and public safety — on a priority basis — for a fee. While this proposal uniquely addresses public safety's broadband needs, the concept of providing an incentive to wireless carriers in exchange for a more thorough buildout of infrastructure in a community is one that requires both a national and local dialogue. Wireless carriers would have just as much incentive to respond to local public-safety concerns as they would to a national perspective on the same issue. To facilitate such a dialogue, public safety should place more emphasis on working with Congress and the FCC to ensure that a process is in place for commercial wireless carriers to obtain bid credits during FCC auctions in exchange for a commitment to build out their wireless solutions with local public-safety input.

To ensure that the needs of local users in all disciplines are met, governance should consist of representatives of national public-safety associations, as well as regional and local public-safety users — including those users on the ground.

Steve Devine is the patrol frequency coordinator for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.