The Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) — the nationwide licensee of public safety's 700 MHz broadband spectrum — recently told the that it supports the idea of local and state entities building networks early on the frequencies, but existing rules need to be changed to make such deployments practical.
In separate waiver requests, the city of Boston, the state of New Jersey and the Bay Area cities — San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose — asked the FCC for permission to pursue the buildout of 700 MHz broadband networks on spectrum licensed to the PSST. In its reply, the PSST reiterated its support for early buildouts if they meet the technical andrequirements of the planned national public-safety network that previously would have been built and maintained by a public/private partnership.
"We do not object to people doing it, as long as they meet the national requirements, so that whatever they do doesn't screw us up trying to have a nationwide system where you can roam from one place to another," PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said during an interview with Urgent Communications.
But there are no technical requirements for 700 MHz public-safety broadband networks at the moment, McEwen said. While the FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking last year that suggested network requirements that were designed to attract a commercial partner, that proposal was never adopted. Thus, the only rules approved by the FCC for the PSST spectrum are those passed in 2007, prior to last year's failed D Block auction.
"The  rules presume that there's going to be a public/private partnership with the D Block winner, and that hasn't happened. And, it presumes that there's going to be a network-sharing agreement, which hasn't happened," McEwen said. "The problem is that, under the current rules, they can't grant a waiver for early buildout, because there aren't any minimum standards, and there isn't a path forward until they decide what they're going to do next."
McEwen said the PSST is working to develop minimum requirements it would like to see adopted for the 700 MHz broadband spectrum but declined to speculate when the FCC — still without a permanent chairman, although nominee Julius Genachowski's nomination hearing is expected to be conducted as early as next week — might take action on the item.
Until technical standards are built, early network buildouts would be risky for local and state organizations, McEwen said.
"You don't know what it's going to cost you, if you go down the wrong path," he said. "If they pick WiMAX, and the decision is that the national network is going to be based on, they're going to have to change everything."
Another factor that discouraged early network buildouts in the past was that there was uncertainty whether the entity building the network would be reimbursed for its financial commitments — a situation that continues to exist, McEwen said.
As chairman of the technology committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), McEwen will be meeting next week with representatives of other public-safety organizations in an effort to develop a consensus position for public safety regarding the future of public safety's 700 MHz broadband spectrum.