Major city police chiefs say ‘no’–for now–t o 700 MHz network
SAN DIEGO—Police chiefs from 35 major cities support a resolution that calls for a postponement of the re-auction of the 700 MHz D Block until a consensus is reached within the public-safety sector on how to best utilize the spectrum that was allocated by the FCC for first responder communications after Congress forced broadcasters out of the band. The resolution was passed on Saturday during the Major Cities Chiefs Conference held here, said Charles Dowd, deputy chief of the New York City Police Department and commanding officer of its communications division.
Half of the public-safety spectrum is to be paired with the 10 MHz of D Block spectrum to provide the spectral foundation for a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders. The network is to be built to public-safety standards and operated by commercial carriers; public safety would be given priority access on at least half of the network. However, the D Block auction held in the first quarter of this year failed to attract a single qualifying bid because commercial operators were unable to see a business case for a network hardened to meet public safety’s requirements.
Dowd, who commented yesterday during an educational session held at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference here, also confirmed that several major cities sent a joint letter to the FCC recently informing the commission that they would not use the proposed network should it ever be built. Dowd identified the cities as New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and San Jose, Calif. In addition, Cook County, Ill.—where Chicago is located—and the state of New York joined the letter, Dowd said.
According to Dowd, many within the public-safety sector are questioning whether the proposed network is the best use for the airwaves. “There is so much disagreement as to what should happen with this spectrum that the auction shouldn’t be held until public-safety consensus is reached,” he said.
A major sticking point is the FCC’s decision to relax the coverage and reliability requirements for the network in the hopes of enticing commercial operators to participate in the re-auction. “We don’t think this network, given the new rules, is public-safety grade, and we have no intention to use it,” Dowd said, adding that NYC would prefer to be granted a license for the public-safety spectrum and build its own broadband network.
Dowd also worries about subscriber costs for the proposed nationwide network.
“They’re talking about $48.50 per month for each user. That would come to $20 million to $25 million each year just for the [New York] police department,” Dowd said.
Harlin McEwen, who chairs the IACP’s communications and technology committee and who led yesterday’s educational session, said the organization is strongly opposed to the stance taken by New York and the other major cities to abandon the proposed nationwide network in favor of building their own. “If we were to follow what New York City is advocating, smaller agencies would be ignored and abandoned,” he said.
McEwen, who also is the chairman of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST)—the designated licensee for the 10 MHz of public-safety airwaves that would be used for the network—said the proposed nationwide network is the best way to achieve interoperable communications and that New York City’s approach represents old thinking.
“We’ve been trying to do that [patching together disparate systems] for 30 years and it hasn’t worked,” McEwen said. “That’s why the FCC has proposed a new model, and we [the IACP] support that.”
McEwen said the idea of New York building its own network is unrealistic. “The bottom line is that New York City has no money,” McEwen said. “Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg recently pulled the plug on a recruitment class of 1000 officers because the city has no money to pay them.”