Is Congress listening?
Last month, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials and the National Emergency Number Association both endorsed the concept of reallocating 30 MHz in the 700 MHz band to public safety — spectrum scheduled to be auctioned in February 2008 (see story on page 6).
While APCO stopped short of backing the specific proposal from Cyren Call Communications, these endorsements represent a major victory for Cyren Call and its leader, former Nextel co-founder Morgan O’Brien. When the International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Fire Chiefs and National Sheriff’s Association jump on board — as they surely will — O’Brien will have a cadre of very powerful entities in his corner.
To be sure, a plethora of questions exist concerning how O’Brien will pull off the enormous undertaking he proposes. The biggest concerns how he’s going to convince Congress to walk away from the anticipated $5 billion the auction would bring.
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the FCC won’t open a proceeding on the Cyren Call proposal without congressional approval — and that won’t come until this question is answered. But as Senior Writer Donny Jackson reports in this edition, O’Brien has presented an answer that is as bold as his proposal to build a public/private, public-safety broadband communications network. He proposes that the public-safety broadband trust borrow the money, pay the Treasury the $5 billion up front and then recoup the investment primarily from the spectrum leasing fees collected from the commercial operators, which will use excess network capacity to provision commercial services. That’s what got APCO on board to at least support the reallocation.
I can’t speak to whether O’Brien’s latest gambit represents financial genius or suicide. But I do know it reflects the kind of creative thinking of which O’Brien is capable. It’s also enough to justify the FCC opening the comment period he seeks. Hopefully, someone in Congress is paying attention.
On a personal note: I am pleased to welcome back to MRT Contributing Writer Harold Kinley, who wrote this edition’s Tech Speak feature. Kinley returns to MRT after a year’s sabbatical. He will share the Tech Speak feature with Jay Jacobsmeyer, who joined the writing team in 2005. It is rare to find radio frequency experts who also are terrific writers — rarer still is to have two of them on the same masthead.