Since the failure of the 700 MHz D Block auction last year, there has been considerable debate over the best use of that spectrum. Last week, a group of eight public-safety organizations met and forged consensus on a number of key issues moving forward, including the reallocation of the D Block to public safety and the need for sustainable funding for the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST).

Now, the notion that public-safety officials would support the allocation of more spectrum for public safety was expected, especially when the largest wireless players in the United States — Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility — have expressed their support for such an idea.

More surprising was the group's thoughts about the PSST, which holds the national license for public safety's 700 MHz broadband spectrum. For more than a year, many in the public-safety community have questioned the need and role of the PSST, with many large-city representatives suggesting that their entities would be better off building out broadband networks on their own.

Although the Major Cities Chiefs Association was represented in the public-safety group, the consensus reached last week is that the PSST should remain in place. The group "substantially agreed" that sustainable funding for the PSST is needed, according to a press release. Moreover, participants indicated that the D Block should be licensed to the PSST.

This approach is an excellent idea for a number of reasons. For one thing, trying to supplant the PSST as the public-safety licensee could have created division within the public-safety community that could have led to more unwanted delays.

More important, allowing entities to build out their own networks with no oversight could lead to a patchwork quilt of broadband networks, with little standardization and interoperability. By having the PSST as the licensee that can "sub-license" spectrum to local, regional and state entities, it can work to ensure that early buildouts of 700 MHz networks will fit into a national plan.

As always, there is a ton of detail work that needs to be done before this vision can be realized — network standards and interoperability requirements must be established to allow early buildouts being a key point — but the progress toward consensus achieved by this ad hoc public-safety group is definitely a step in the right direction.

Mobile wireless consultant Andrew Seybold told me that public-safety group's consensus regarding the 700 MHz band was "the best news I've heard in a long time," noting that a united public-safety community with a clear direction should have a legitimate chance of convincing Congress to take the D Block off the commercial auction block — and maybe helping resolve the PSST funding issues.

I agree that this action is excellent news for the first-responder community (which might do well to include critical-infrastructure entities in its plans, but that's another column for another day). Hopefully, it's just the first of many steps that will lead to the successful deployment of 700 MHz broadband networks that benefit public safety.

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

Related Stories