700 MHz: The time is now
DENVER–For almost a decade, public-safety officials have waited for valuable 700 MHz spectrum to be cleared by television broadcasters, so the first-responder community can use the much-needed airwaves in their ongoing efforts to save lives and property.
By now, most in the industry can recite the primary talking points by heart: the 24 MHz allocated would double public safety’s spectrum portfolio, providing additional voice channels and the ability to deploy broadband services such as video. In 1997, Congress passed a law stating that public safety should receive the spectrum on Jan. 1, 2007, but only if 85% of U.S. households have TVs that can receive broadcasters’ digital signals–something that won’t happen for many years, according to many industry observers.
This stuff is such old hat that it would be understandable for those in public safety to say, “I know the story and am tired of hearing it. We can’t use the spectrum until it’s cleared, so why bother with it until then? Wake me up when there’s some action.”
Note to public safety: The alarm just went off, and it’s important you don’t hit the snooze button.
That’s the message being delivered here at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) annual conference, where a “call to action” has been delivered in an effort to get public safety to tell their federal lawmakers how important this issue is to public safety. Legislation has been proposed in the Senate that would close the 85% loophole and provide a firm date for public safety to begin using the airwaves, and Congress is expected to focus on the issue in September.
No elected officials oppose public safety’s interests in the matter. But it’s important that first responders make their voices heard on Capitol Hill because it would be easy for lawmakers to lose focus on public safety amid the considerable political and economic lobbying surrounding the issue.
Yucel Ors, APCO’s director of legislative affairs, said public safety should call, e-mail or fax their opinions–don’t send letters, because security measures delay their delivery too long–to their representatives and staff. Be courteous, remind the offices that you are a constituent and make your points as concisely as possible to have the greatest impact, Ors advises.
But the main thing is to take action now because this opportunity to influence lawmakers on the 700 MHz could be fleeting, according to Al Ittner, Motorola’s senior manager of spectrum and regulatory strategy.
“If it doesn’t happen this year, this Congress probably isn’t going to address it,” Ittner said. “If it gets killed this year, the same Congress probably won’t consider it next year.”