Much has been written about public-safety entities' shared frustration with 800 MHz rebanding and the players involved in that effort. However, when compared to the way that many regional planning committees (RPCs) work, the rebanding process seems entirely logical.

I've spoken to numerous public-safety clients that nearly curl into a fetal ball when they think about going before an RPC. Descriptions like "arbitrary," "silly" and — sometimes — "fixed" fall out of sputtering faces that are twitching while trying to maintain some semblance of professionalism.

Often the problem can be traced to the RPC chairman. If your RPC chairman exhibits traits that are a cross between Napoleon, Stalin and the Unabomber, then maybe you understand. Self-covered with importance and power, some RPC chairmen start acting like mini-FCCs — except with none of that due-process stuff that otherwise might impede their ability to order your proposal into exile.

Each time I run into one of these delusional demigods, I ask the same question, "How does this person get away with this stuff?" The answer always is the same: The arrogant RPC chairman is perceived to have power that can make or break the public-safety entities that appear before the RPC, so local governments are intimidated. As a result, guys who strap on guns or run into burning buildings for a living suddenly go all "Pee Wee Herman" during the process.

So, "What about the rest of the RPC members?" you might rationally ask. Well, they often are just as intimidated by the chairman and they don't want to cause conflict. These "go-along guys" hardly are the checks and balances that the system is supposed to have. In fact, their refusal to stand up to a bully just emboldens these petty dictators.

Then there are the cases where there really isn't an RPC, per se. The chairman does all the work, makes all the decisions and convinces the rest of the group that meetings aren't really necessary. So, those RPCs become one-man shows where the chairman sits in front of a mirror to take a vote.

To be fair, there are some RPCs that function properly and are run by people who really try to act in the best interests of each agency that comes before them. These committees do not engage in spectrum-warehousing, but instead adhere to the time-honored "first come, first served" rule that is supposed to guide their actions. Good RPCs do not question their fellow public-safety officials in a manner that Dick Cheney would use on a terrorist. They foster openness, cooperation and transparency.

When RPCs were created years ago, it was because public safety convinced the FCC that they would encourage interoperability and interagency cooperation, which in turn would initiate better uses of radio spectrum. This goal is realized far too few times; instead, RPCs often are nests of hidden agendas, political intrigue and good ol' boy networks that can freeze out all but a select group of insiders.

Today, public safety stands on the precipice of opportunity brought by the availability of 700 MHz spectrum. The long-awaited introduction of this spectrum into the public-safety arsenal is welcomed by myriad local governments. It's a shame that the promise of network growth and invention will first need to overcome the challenges created by some RPCs that ascribe to the "Al Capone" business model.

So, here's my unsolicited but totally free advice for public-safety licensees across the country: Either get your RPCs to function as intended, clean up your own houses and start getting involved by challenging arbitrary and draconian decisions when they are made, or one day one of the abused public-safety licensees is going to cry foul in a big way. And the last time I checked, no RPC had a legal-defense fund.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.

Robert H. Schwaninger Jr. is the president of Schwaninger & Associates. He can be reached at