Public safety needs to speak with one voice
What will happen at 700 MHz is a complete unknown — virtually anything could happen, as all ideas can be considered by a new FCC, new Congress and a new presidential administration.
Multiple wireless broadband options for first responders are being discussed, from a revamping of the D Block auction strategy — still the law of the land, until Congress and/or the FCC change it — to an approach that would allow local/regional agencies to build out networks that could be linked to develop a “system of systems” across the country. This request-for-proposal model has been supported by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility for the past year, and representatives of the carriers reiterated this position at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) in Las Vegas two weeks ago.
Certainly there are pros and cons to all the various strategies, but virtually everyone in the industry agrees there is one common characteristic for all of them: public safety needs to make a decision to support one of these approaches and present a unified front to federal policymakers for any of them to become reality.
Typically, things in Washington, D.C., proceed as a glacial pace on most communications issues. However, when public safety speaks with one voice, it is amazing how quickly things can move. No elected or appointed officials want to turn their back on first responders.
That can be a mixed blessing. It means that, when public safety speaks with one voice, things can get done with relative speed — see the relatively quick action the FCC took on the public-private partnership concept at 700 MHz. Even Congress conducted hearings on the original Cyren Call plan, despite the fact that most pundits questioned whether it would ever see the light of day on Capitol Hill after being introduced “too late” after the complex digital-TV laws were written.
However, in their quest not to turn their backs on first responders, policymakers tend to tread carefully — i.e., move very slowly, if at all — when is even the slightest disagreement within public safety’s ranks on a subject.
As a result, this is a perfect time for first-responder representatives to debate the merits of the various 700 MHz options, because the FCC and Congress are focused on other matters at the moment. The key point is that this debate needs to conclude with a first-responder consensus behind a course of action — and the sooner the better.
With a unified front, public safety can move mountains in the nation’s capital, resulting in funding and law changes, if necessary. But a splintered public safety very possibly could lose all access to the commercial D Block — spectrum that some in Congress would like to auction to generate additional revenue for the U.S. Treasury — and idly watch as its dedicated broadband spectrum 700 MHz lies fallow until a consensus is reached.
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