While FCC officials have emphasized the need for public safety to be able to construct its proposed 700 MHz broadband network in conjunction with commercial carriers’ LTE deployments to make the costs more reasonable, an AT&T official said he believes there will be greater costs associated with not reallocating the D Block to public safety.

In its cost-model white paper for the proposed 700 MHz broadband network for public safety, the FCC noted that the cost to build the nationwide network simultaneously with commercial wireless carriers would be $6.3 billion, but a separate buildout would cost $15.7 billion.

Simultaneous buildouts of the public-safety and commercial networks would allow for some efficiencies, because crews would not have to visit each site twice, but the costs associated with revisiting the site would represent a small fraction of the overall cost of the network, said Stacey Black, AT&T Business Solutions’ assistant vice president of mobility product management.

“Our modeling internally has always assumed that [public safety] would come in after the fact and attach stuff to the network afterwards,” Black said. “Simultaneous builds may happen in some cases, but it’s not going to happen in every case.”

Indeed, as regulators and lawmakers determine how the proposed public-safety network would be deployed, Verizon Wireless plans to launch LTE service in 30 markets by the end of the year and AT&T Mobility “is going to be right behind them” in its 4G deployments, Black said.

Black said the FCC should be commended for its considerable research and efforts associated with the cost-model white paper.

“I applaud [FCC officials] completely — this is the hard work that no one has done before, so I think it’s terrific,” he said.

Currently, the FCC calls for the public-safety network to be built on 10 MHz of spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). The adjacent 10 MHz of D Block airwaves would be auctioned to commercial operators early next year. Reiterating a longtime AT&T position, Black said he believes the D Block should be reallocated to public safety — something that would require an act of Congress.

Without such a reallocation, FCC officials’ promises to provide public safety with additional spectrum in the future will result in a tremendous increase in costs — and inconvenience — throughout the public safety system, Black said.

“You have the cost impact down the road, when the FCC gives them at spectrum at 1.7 GHz or whatever,” he said. “Then, there’s going to have to be a whole new radio at each cell site, and every device that’s out there is going to have to be changed out.”

Instead, Congress should reallocate the D Block to public safety, as multiple first-responder and government organizations have requested, Black said. Doing so would allow public safety to deploy a more robust, cost-effective network initially and avoid the costs of adding additional spectrum bands into the system, he said.

“The point is that, rather than doubling the cost to the taxpayer, it’s probably less expensive to just reallocate the spectrum,” Black said. “It’s not just the money, but [public safety is] going to have basically the equivalent of a 3G network if they’re confined inside of a 10 MHz. They’re never going to get the efficiencies of LTE, which really ramp up at 20 MHz.”

While AT&T and Verizon have plenty of 700 MHz spectrum to support their planned LTE networks, no other national carrier is in the same position. Some industry analysts believe auctioning the D Block represents the last chance to introduce greater commercial wireless competition at 700 MHz, which has been a stated priority for the FCC and many federal lawmakers.