Last month at the International Wireless Communications Exposition ( ) in Las Vegas, representatives for both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility — the nation's two largest commercial wireless carriers — reiterated their shared vision for what should be done about the proposed wireless broadband network for first responders, which currently is caught in a state of limbo.
Both companies want the 10 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band — known as the D Block — given to public safety, which then would pair it with 10 MHz of its own airwaves in the band, giving the sector 20 MHz of spectrum to build broadband networks for first responders. This contrasts with the current plan, which is to auction the D Block to a commercial operator, or operators, which would then work with public safety in a public/private partnership to build the network to public-safety specifications.
Instead of a single national licensee for the spectrum, as is the current plan, regional or local licensees in the public-safety sector could solicit commercial operators via a bid process to construct networks — built to a national standard to enable— that likely would try to leverage existing infrastructure, which would save enormous time and money.
Finally, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility both believe taxpayers should pay for the network and that Congress should create a dedicated stimulus package for this purpose.
Both companies will support public safety if it decides it wants to pursue this vision and asks Congress for new legislation, their reps said. Current law requires theto auction the spectrum to commercial interests.
Public safety should unite behind this vision. Does anyone think this network will become a reality without the support of both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility? Now, these behemoths together are telling public safety, "This is how to get it done."
During IWCE, Harlin McEwen, chairman of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust — the current licensee for the 10 MHz of public-safety spectrum — indicated he's open to new ideas. "If this proposal doesn't succeed in one form or another, then public safety will have lost a one-time opportunity to dramatically improve its communications," he said. "And I would find that very sad."
It not only would be sad, it would be unconscionable. Ergo, I believe public safety will warm to the message. And, given the enormous lobbying muscle that first responders and the commercial-wireless sector wield on Capitol Hill, I believe Congress will warm to it, too.