House committee grants FCC extension on public-safety communications inquiry
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have granted FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski an extension to reply to the committee’s letter expressing concern about competition in the public-safety LMR marketplace and the implications that could have on 700 MHz LTE deployments.
On April 20, bipartisan leaders of the committee — most notably, Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) — wrote a letter to Genachowski stating that they found reports of Motorola having 80% share of the public-safety narrowband equipment marketplace to be “troubling.” With this in mind, the committee leaders stated they were concerned by some initial news reports that Motorola was the selected vendor for some early broadband LTE deployments.
In the letter, the committee leaders inquired whether a vendor assuming a dominant position in the LTE public-safety marketplace might lead to proprietary solutions that have created interoperability issues and resulted in high-cost equipment being sold to the public-safety sector.
Genachowski was asked to respond to the inquiry by May 5, but he requested an extension for more time, which the committee granted, according to a spokeswoman for the House Commerce Committee.
However, Motorola has submitted its own response to the committee leaders’ letter, noting that its LTE gear “complies with the LTE standard is, therefore, not a proprietary technology.” In addition, the vendor giant noted that there are 20 entities with 700 MHz waivers to use public-safety broadband spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) and that 32 other entities have spectrum waivers pending approval at the FCC. Of those 52 opportunities, only two entities have selected Motorola as their LTE vendor to date.
In fact, there are questions surrounding both of those projects. In Harris County, Texas, Motorola has been selected as the vendor for the LTE project, but the FCC has not yet approved a 700 MHz spectrum waiver that would allow the public-safety entity to operate the system, if it was deployed.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Motorola won a $50.6 million federal broadband stimulus grant to build a 193-site, public-safety LTE network in the region, but the proposed project has been the subject of considerable scrutiny regarding the procurement process, the readiness of chosen sites, spectrum rights and long-term costs for participating entities.
During the next several weeks, government entities in the San Francisco Bay Area will decide whether they want to participate in a new joint powers authority (JPA) that would oversee deployment of a 700 MHz LTE network for first responders in the region, according to Michelle McGurk, spokesperson for San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. After the JPA is established, its members would have the right to negotiate a formal contract with Motorola to deploy the proposed LTE network, she said.
Under the terms of the federal broadband stimulus grant, Motorola is required to complete two-thirds of the proposed LTE network buildout in the San Francisco Bay Area during the next 16 months.
Richard Mirgon, former president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), said he believes the Commerce committee letter is a “red herring,” noting that Motorola’s dominance in the public-safety narrowband marketplace primarily is reflective of the sector being loyal to a vendor that provide effective products.