We're down to the wire on the 700 MHz debate. With auctions looming on the horizon, the time has come for decisions.

Currently, it doesn't look good for the public-safety sector. Its leaders don't want to compromise and be forced to accept less control over the spectrum than what has been proposed by Cyren Call in its plan for a nationwide wireless broadband network. In addition, the support needed to encourage Congress to enact enabling legislation doesn't exist. Consequently, public safety is lodged between the proverbial rock and a hard place. While something similar to the Frontline Wireless proposal remains a possibility, heavy lobbying from commercial carriers may make the ultimate implementation far less than optimal for the public-safety community.

Unless there's some last-minute magic, public safety might have missed its last, best chance to leverage a nationwide interoperable infrastructure featuring reasonably priced handsets. That would be a shame, because everything is so right about the 700 MHz band: operational characteristics; enough contiguous spectrum to make a nationwide network happen; adjacency to 800 MHz (making a single handset possible); and spectrum becoming available at just the right time.

What is needed right now is some leadership on all sides of the debate. Commercial interests, public-safety interests and the FCC must all get together, lock themselves in a room and agree on a format that works for everyone. In doing so, each side must recognize the interests and issues of the others. Commercial operators must recognize the needs of public safety for unimpeded, universal access to the network, while public safety must recognize the economic restraints placed upon any for-profit entity. And both must recognize the political pressures on the FCC.

So far, it seems as if the only entity to take these considerations into account has been Cyren Call. Clearly, the company's mastermind, Morgan O'Brien, understands the financial models, and he has spent enough time with public-safety officials over the past few years to understand their issues. Unfortunately, the inability of the political process to think outside of the box for what is truly a unique proposal seems at this point to have prevented a successful end to this saga. Nevertheless, Cyren Call should be credited with making the debate happen.

Make no mistake: It is possible to create a public/private partnership that works. On a smaller scale, it exists today in a variety of municipalities. What doesn't exist is such a model on a nationwide basis.

It does seem that every week brings another 700 MHz proposal from a new party. Whether it's Google's new proposal, or whatever gets proposed between the writing of this column and its publication, there seems to be no shortage of ideas. There is, however, a shortage of ideas that work for everyone.

All I've heard about recently is how great mobile video is for consumers. Obviously, it's great for the commercial entities that are charging huge fees for access and availability. But is this truly where our best interests as a country lie? How do we balance YouTube against the chaos of 9/11 and Katrina? So far, I haven't seen enough of an effort to achieve that balance. It has to be done — now.

Clearly, the FCC is in a difficult spot, having to navigate through the myriad proposals and trying to figure out something that works for all parties, while avoiding years of additional litigation. This may not be the most difficult decision that the commission has had to make in recent years, but it certainly ranks high. As such, it warrants much attention, consideration and — most of all — leadership. Who's going to step up to deliver it?


Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at atilles@srgpe.com.