Proposals create 700 MHz shakeup
At the beginning of the week, it seemed like public safety was working diligently to forge a consensus on the 700 MHz broadband front, with multiple first-responder organizations expressing support for the use of LTE and that the commercial D Block should be reallocated to public safety.
What a difference a few days makes. During that time, two proposals — one from the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and one from a group of four commercial wireless carriers that are interested in bidding on the D Block — have surfaced that threaten public safety’s momentum.
Frankly, the idea that the commercial carriers want access to the 700 MHz D Block was both expected and logical, particularly if the FCC or Congress passes spectrum cap/screen rules that would prohibit AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless — owners of most 700 MHz commercial spectrum today — from participating. Given the statements of many Democratic leaders in Washington expressing concern about AT&T and Verizon’s dominance of last year’s 700 MHz auction, such rules certainly are within reach.
The real shocker was airing of the NENA proposal, which not only abandons the notion of public safety getting the D Block but also calls for the auction of the 10 MHz of spectrum currently licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). PSST CEO Brian Fontes today told me that he believes the proposal — still not finalized or submitted to the FCC — would provide public safety with a better short-term and long-term foundation to pursue broadband solutions.
Fontes also said he does not believe the NENA proposal is necessarily a final solution, but he wanted to spark debate. If that’s the real goal, it’s been remarkably successful. Before even being submitted to the FCC, word of the NENA proposal started a firestorm within the public-safety community.
A big question is whether a debate within the public-safety sector will be perceived by federal officials as being a sign of division within the first-responder community. As has been stated many times in this space, Washington can act very fast to address the desires of a united public-safety front, but it tends to do nothing if there is the slightest hint of a schism within the first-responder ranks.
“Just when we start getting stuff in order, this happens,” mobile wireless consultant Andrew Seybold said of the NENA proposal s. “It’s very disheartening.”
Hopefully, public-safety officials can forge agreements within its ranks, so the process can move forward. In fact, it could be a blessing in disguise, as these alternative proposals may force public safety to better scrutinize its plans and take clear ownership of whatever strategy ultimately is pursued.
This is important, because the carriers’ proposal described the idea of the D Block being allocated to public safety as something proposed by AT&T and Verizon to keep competitors out of the 700 MHz band. Such framing of the issue favors the competitive carriers, who can expect a sympathetic ear from Congress and the FCC in their struggles against the largest wireless carriers.
If public safety wants the D Block, it is critical that the first-responder community establish a consensus position and boldly state it as its own. Proposals that are seen as AT&T/Verizon snuffing out competition will not be well received in the current Beltway environment, but a united public-safety proposal definitely has a chance of succeeding.