Public safety contests FCC 700 MHz broadband capacity findings
FCC findings that 10 MHz of 700 MHz broadband spectrum is enough to meet public safety’s needs are erroneous and based on false assumptions, according to multiple filings from organizations representing first responders supporting reallocation of the 700 MHz D Block to public safety.
In its response, the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) — a consortium of first-responder organizations — said the FCC white paper “greatly underestimates the current and future capacity needs of public safety” and “makes far too many assumptions and relies on conjecture to develop its misguided policy framework that will put public-safety users at risk.”
One of the biggest concerns expressed by the PSA, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), Motorola and mobile wireless consultant Andrew Seybold is the target throughput rates cited by the FCC for video. The FCC white paper developed scenarios based on video rates as low as 256 kbps, a rate cited by NPSTC before the first failed D Block auction.
In its filing, NPSTC said the 256 kbps figure was meant to be only a minimum threshold for uplink connections, while the downlink connections should be 1 Mbps. Furthermore, the throughput figures were kept at a minimal level in an attempt to attract a D Block bidder, according to the filing. Perhaps more important, public safety’s video needs have changed significantly during the past three years.
“It is clear that the commission’s thinking on the need for increased consumer broadband capacity has evolved over that time period,” the NPSTC filing states. “Similarly, public safety’s capacity requirements and interest in broadband applications have also increased and is expected to do so even more, now that the commission has made provisions for [700 MHz waiver] jurisdictions to deploy public-safety-grade systems.”
Dick Mirgon, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), echoed this sentiment, noting that the FCC’s plans to make 500 MHz of spectrum available for commercial wireless operators during the next decade is a clear indication of the growth expected in the mobile communications industry.
FCC plans to make more broadband spectrum available to public safety in other bands is not as attractive as allowing first responders to use the D Block, Mirgon said. Similar spectrum strategies in multiple bands have hampered public-safety interoperability in the narrowband voice arena in the past, he said.
“Any time the FCC has given us spectrum in a different band, we have doubled our cost and have made obsolete the investments that we’ve made,” Mirgon said. “Unfortunately, the FCC has failed to learn that lesson or failed to recognize it.”
Mirgon said he believes the messages from the FCC regarding public safety’s spectrum needs are inconsistent.
“How can [the FCC] say, in one hand, that you don’t need more spectrum at 700 MHz [for public safety], but ‘we’re going to look at — and give you — more in the future?’” he said. “They are contradicting themselves, from a public-policy perspective.”
FCC officials have said that greater data capacity can be supported with more cell sites operating within the 10 MHz of spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust. If this capacity is used, public safety will be given priority-roaming privileges on 700 MHz commercial networks.
“The FCC’s sole interest is in seeing a nationwide interoperable public safety network move from talk to reality,” Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau, said in a prepared statement. “Our concern is that other proposals will cost more than $35 billion and therefore will never be built or will leave out rural and suburban communities instead of providing a truly comprehensive nationwide network for America's first responders.”
But public-safety commenters question the priority-roaming concept, noting that public safety would need pre-emptive roaming rights — something commercial carriers are expected to be reluctant to provide — and that commercial networks often are unavailable during the times public safety would need them most. In addition, many public-safety representatives are concerned about the rates commercial carriers could charge for roaming. The FCC has opened a proceeding to examine the roaming arrangement under its plan.
While FCC officials have argued that D Block-reallocation advocates have failed to propose a business plan, public-safety officials have said they believe the existing FCC funding proposals would provide a strong financial foundation for the proposed public-safety network. If the D Block is reallocated to public safety, these officials propose that first-responder organizations also would have the flexibility to lease excess capacity on their networks to raise additional funds.