Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) yesterday announced his intention to introduce legislation calling for a public-private broadband network at 700 MHz that would promote communications interoperability between first-responder agencies nationwide on 30 MHz of spectrum slated to be auctioned in a year.

While no text for proposed legislation has been drafted, McCain’s 700 MHz plan appears to mirror the proposal made last year by Cyren Call Communications, which calls for the 30 MHz of spectrum to be allocated to a public-safety broadband trust that would lease the airwaves to commercial operators. For building and maintaining a public-safety-grade network, the commercial operators would be allowed to sell commercial services on the network over capacity not needed by public safety at a given time.

Several national public-safety organizations—one of them being the Major Counties Sheriff’s Association, whose conference was where McCain chose to make his announcement—have expressed support for this public-private network concept. In addition, the FCC is considering the notion in a proceeding involving 12 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum already earmarked for public safety when the digital-television transition is completed in February 2009.

“We are at a watershed moment where we can provide more of the 700 MHz spectrum to solve our national public safety communications crisis and greatly enhance our emergency preparedness,” McCain said in a prepared statement. “If we do not act now, this valuable spectrum will be auctioned off and this opportunity will be lost forever."

A year ago, Congress enacted legislation calling for 60 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum to be auctioned to commercial operators by late January 2008—a law that must be changed for the 30 MHz desired by public safety to be dedicated to a public-safety trust. Not surprisingly, large commercial wireless carriers that are expected to participate in that auction have expressed opposition to the Cyren Call plan.

There has been considerable activity regarding the notion on Capitol Hill during the past several weeks, but most insiders believed potential bill sponsors would not be unveiled until at least mid-February.

“This was an unexpected surprise, … but all of the people I’ve talked to in the public-safety community are very pleased,” said Harlin McEwen, communications and technology committee chairman of the International Chiefs of Police (IACP).

Indeed, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) today reiterated its support for the creation of the public-safety broadband trust and a public-private broadband network utilizing this 30 MHz of spectrum.

"APCO International is very pleased Senator McCain has supported this important initiative," APCO President Wanda McCarley said in a prepared statement. "We encourage other members of Congress to stand behind this initiative as well."

Although committed to introducing the enabling legislation for a public-private broadband network at 700 MHz, McCain has not determined when the bill will be formalized, a McCain aide told MRT. In the meantime, McCain is seeking support for the notion on Capitol Hill, she said.

McCain is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which next week will conduct a hearing entitled “The Present and Future of Public-Safety Communications.” The notion of a 700 MHz nationwide public-safety network will be discussed at the hearing, the aide said.