McCain introduces 700 MHz legislation
As expected, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) yesterday introduced new legislation that would have a public-private partnership build a nationwide broadband network for public safety on 30 MHz of spectrum scheduled to be auctioned to commercial operators next year.
Under the McCain legislation, the 30 MHz of spectrum would be auctioned as scheduled, but bidders would be required to commit to building a network that meets standards set by a public-safety working group and agree to let public-safety entities access the network. If no commercial operators bid on the spectrum, it would be licensed to a public safety broadband trust for an amount not to exceed $5 billion.
Public-safety officials have expressed support for using the spectrum under concepts proposed by Cyren Call Communications, led by Nextel Communications co-founder Morgan O’Brien. Under that plan, the 30 MHz of spectrum would be licensed to a public-safety broadband trust, which would lease the airwaves to a commercial operator that would build and operate the public-safety grade network.
While public-safety officials were optimistic when McCain announced in January that he would offer legislation to enable a public-private network for public safety in the 700 MHz band, the fact that the legislation would not let the public-safety trust control the spectrum immediately was a matter of concern.
In a joint statement, a trio of public-safety leaders—Robert Gurss of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), Harlin McEwen of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Alan Caldwell of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)—acknowledged the concern.
“We strongly prefer legislation that grants a license for 30 MHz in the 700 MHz band directly to a ‘Public Safety Broadband Trust,’ thus ensuring that public-safety needs were given first priority in the deployment of the spectrum,” the statement said. “We continue to urge Congress to adopt [this] model.
“Nevertheless, we appreciate Senator McCain’s efforts to open the debate, and look forward to working with him and others in Congress as we move forward to shape legislation to meet the critical need for public safety broadband communications capability.”
In a separate statement, O’Brien said directly licensing the spectrum to a public-safety trust is a “subtle and critically important” aspect of his plan.
“The only way to make sure the right network for first responders gets built from the start—and staying true over time to public-safety requirements as they inevitably change—is to place control over the network, along with the license to the spectrum, in the hands of public safety,” O’Brien said.
“Does anybody remember NextWave? That debacle illustrates what happens when commercial entities promise what they need to promise to win an auction, only to renege on that promise, while retaining the spectrum license. In this situation, such an event would be tragic for public safety and the nation.”
A representative in McCain’s office said the legislation will be submitted to the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration but no schedule has been announced yet.