Let’s make a deal
Happy New Year. I hope your holiday season was filled with family and fun.
I usually take time off during the holidays to be with my family. We go to movies, sleep in, go shopping, play games and do just about anything that rings our jingle bells. I especially like playing games. From video games to board games, it doesn’t matter. I just love the give and take games can offer.
One of my favorite memories concerning games involves my time in the Air Force. While assigned to Charleston AFB, SC, I was one of three aircraft maintenance squadron commanders. Each commander was responsible for maintaining the various systems on the aircraft (we had C-141s — a large transport plane). I was the avionics (aircraft electronic systems) squadron commander.
Each Friday evening, the three of us would get together with our wives and play “Trivial Pursuit.” It was always the guys against the girls. One evening, in a close game, the guys got the question, “What was the sequel to The Pink Panther?”. We looked at each other with clueless expressions, each hoping the others knew the answer. No one did.
After stalling as long as possible, I finally came up with The Return of the Pink Panther. Bob, our senior officer, looked at me (as the ladies urged us to get on with it) and asked me if I was sure about the answer. I wasn’t. But I realized we had to come up with something. If I was wrong, our wives were in a position to win the game on the next roll. Finally, I looked at Bob and said, “We might as well go with it. But it’s a shot in the dark.” Suddenly, I leaped from my chair and said, “That’s the title. It’s A Shot in the Dark.” The ladies each looked at each other in disbelief and frustration. Bob’s wife picked up the board and threw it on the floor. She said something to the effect of: They could beat us, but not dumb luck. Years later, all of us love to retell the story and still get a chuckle from it.
I got to thinking about that moment from my Air Force career just before the holidays. What triggered the flashback was a press release I received from Nextel Communications concerning its proposal to the FCC to (paraphrase) “expand, realign and further protect public safety communications.” My first thought was, what kind of game was Nextel playing?
Behind Door #1
According to Nextel, the proposal will facilitate two important public safety objectives. The company believes it can provide a framework for mitigating interference to public safety communications from commercial services at 800MHz. Nextel believes this can be accomplished by separating the channel blocks used by cellular and other CMRS providers from those used by public safety communications systems. Second, the company believes it would double public safety’s spectrum allocation at 800MHz, providing opportunities to increase capacity, deploy advanced technologies and enhance interoperability among police, fire and rescue personnel.
Nextel believes that a realignment of radio frequencies in the 700MHz, 800MHz and 900MHz bands would “result in a more efficient use of spectrum by all parties.” Under Nextel’s proposal, public safety communications systems would have access to a 20MHz block of contiguous spectrum in the lower 800MHz band, which they say is more than double public safety’s current allocation of 9.5MHz of non-contiguous spectrum at 800MHz.
Behind Door #2
Nextel also proposes to exchange 16MHz of its current licensed spectrum to make the realignment possible. The company would exchange 4MHz in the 700MHz band, about 8MHz of current SMR spectrum in the lower non-contiguous channels of the 800MHz band, and as much as 4MHz of spectrum in the 900MHz band. In return for this spectrum, Nextel would receive 16MHz of spectrum (6MHz in the upper 800MHz band and 10MHz in the 2.1GHz band).
Behind Door #3
In addition, Nextel is willing to “provide financial and other resources to the public safety community to facilitate implementation of the proposal.” The company would contribute as much as $500 million to help cover the public safety community’s costs of “retuning incumbent operators to the new public safety spectrum block and other expenses associated with the realignment, provided the FCC adopts the proposal substantially as submitted.”
Doesn’t this sound like a fun game? Can anybody play? And by anybody, I mean the various public safety agencies, associations and anyone affected by the current problems and potential fixes. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials — International and six other public safety agencies have told the FCC that they believe it should proceed with consideration of Nextel’s proposal. APCO also believes Nextel is taking a “major step in the right direction.”
I agree, but it will be interesting to watch how all the players actually play the realignment game. At this point, my real hope is that Nextel is not taking a shot in the dark but is serious about fixing the problem. We will have to wait and see who the real winners are.