ORLANDO—The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials today announced its support for reallocating 30 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum—currently designated to be auctioned—so it can be used for a nationwide broadband data network for public safety, but run by commercial operators.

“What we’re saying is that we support the concept and the 30 MHz for public safety,” APCO President Wanda McCarley said in an interview with MRT at APCO’s annual conference here. “I think the big challenge is getting that spectrum off the auction block. That’s the critical issue.”

APCO issued the statement one day after Cyren Call Communications CEO Morgan O’Brien outlined a plan to address the projected $5 billion budget shortfall Congress would face if the 30 MHz of 700 MHz airwaves—half of the 60 MHz in the band scheduled to be auctioned by February 2008—was licensed to public safety. The public-safety broadband trust that would be the licensee of the 30 MHz of spectrum could guarantee the U.S. Treasury the $5 billion currently budgeted, O’Brien said. The trust would borrow the money, pay the Treasury immediately, and repay the loan with money received from the winning bids submitted by the commercial operators wanting to build the public-safety-grade network, or with other possible revenues.

Many Beltway sources have said Congress would not consider the public-private partnership proposal until the budget issue is resolved. McCarley said having a way to address this sticky political issue was crucial to her organization supporting the public-private proposal.

“We’ve held back so far and said the devil is in the details,” she said. “Without having that huge financial piece addressed, we were not sure that it was worth our resources and political capital.”

In a statement released today, APCO said the 24 MHz of spectrum already allocated to public safety in the 700 MHz band—scheduled to be cleared by television broadcasters in February 2009—is “insufficient to meet public safety’s future requirements.”

While expressing support for the public-private partnership model for a 700 MHz network, the APCO statement stopped short of endorsing the Cyren Call proposal. However, the statement notes that Cyren Call’s public-safety broadband trust idea “may be a viable framework.”

McCarley said she expects other public-safety associations to join APCO in supporting the 700 MHz broadband network.

“We have talked with our industry partners, and I think that we’re on the same page,” McCarley said.

Harlin McEwen, chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Communications and Technology Committee, agreed, noting that his organization will review the APCO statement early next week.

“I’m pleased with the statement they released today; it serves as the foundation for discussions with other industry associations,” McEwen said.

Such support is a significant victory for Cyren Call, which has struggled to garner support on Capitol Hill for a proposal that is opposed by commercial wireless carriers that also are key players in the development of telecom-reform legislation being considered by Congress. Having public-safety’s support at a time when national security is a high priority greatly improves the proposal’s chances.

“APCO’s statement reflects the strong public interest, vision and leadership of its members,” O’Brien said in a statement. “As the statement notes, APCO has long advocated for additional spectrum that will enable effective public-safety communications, including advanced broadband applications. At present, such capabilities are widely available to commercial sectors and private citizens in the U.S. – but not to the vast majority of our first responders.”

To date, Cyren Call has not suggested the makeup of the public-safety broadband trust that would oversee the public-private network. But McEwen said it would have to be a public-safety-friendly organization for the emergency-response community to continue its support of the concept.

“At a very high level, it’s very clear that the plan would be totally under the control of public-safety leadership,” McEwen said.

McCarley echoed this sentiment.

“If we’re interested, [the broadband trust] will be a public-safety dominated group,” McCarley said.