LAS VEGAS--A prominent attorney representing the interests of the nation’s public utilities said during an educational session at IWCE 2005 here that utilities are still eager to share public-safety communications and that there is no reason for first responders to fear such an arrangement.

Such a scenario is attractive to the utilities because no dedicated spectrum has been set aside for critical infrastructure, said Jill Lyon, general counsel for the United Telecom Council during the session that examined the FCC’s spectrum policies. “We desperately need dedicated spectrum. We’re scattered all over the place,” she said.

Lyon said the communications infrastructure that utilities have is more robust than those currently employed by public-safety agencies.

“We tend to overbuild, because it has to work all the time,” due to requirements placed upon utilities by state and federal statutes, she said, adding that most sites are backed up by two-week supplies of generator fuel, “so power isn’t an issue.”

Sharing facilities would offer to public safety more robust communications infrastructure that it typically can’t build on its own due to funding limitations, a point the UTC has been trying to get public safety to understand for the past three years with no success, Lyon said. The reason is, according to Lyon, is that public safety fears that the utilities would eventually “steal their systems.” She said those fears are unfounded.

“We don’t care that much about control and understand the importance of the traditional public-safety communications systems,” Lyon said. “They think they will somehow be hurt. But we’re not trying to take their systems, we’re trying to make them better and create a robust communications infrastructure that this country should have. I have been shouting this from the rooftops, but they won’t believe me.”

David Furth, associate bureau chief and counsel for the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, who participated in the same session, said afterward that Lyon’s suggestion has merit but said the commission wouldn’t try to bring the parties together.

“Our current policies encourage more flexibility in spectrum usage and, while it doesn’t provide full flexibility, a sharing concept [might work]” Furth said. “But we’re not going to force them together. We hope the incentives are there, and if you take away the regulatory barriers, they will get together. Maybe it’s an idea that needs more time.”