Public safety’s winding road to broadband
May 2006: Former Nextel Communications founder Morgan O’Brien, heading new venture Cyren Call, unveils a public/private partnership plan to provide public-safety nationwide with mobile broadband capability during his IWCE keynote.
March 2007: Startup Frontline Wireless proposes a public/private shared network with first responders, using the 10 MHz D Block of commercial spectrum and the 10 MHz of public-safety spectrum in the 700 MHz band.
July 2007: FCC revamps 700 MHz spectrum plans to create a contiguous 10 MHz broadband swath for public safety and to auction the adjacent D Block to a commercial carrier to partner with public safety.
November 2007: FCC names the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) as the licensee for public safety’s broadband spectrum. PSST informs potential D Block bidders of public safety’s performance expectations.
January 2008: As global credit markets collapse, Frontline Wireless closes its doors only a few weeks before the 700 MHz D Block auction. No one makes a qualifying bid for the public/private D Block spectrum.
April 2008: Congress investigates claims from Frontline Wireless CEO Reed Hundt, who blames PSST public-safety requirements and Cyren Call for the lack of interest in the D Block auction. Cyren Call is cleared of all allegations, but the company’s role with the PSST is questioned by many.
November 2008: Barack Obama is elected president. Hundt becomes a key member of Obama’s transition team.
February 2009: NYPD Deputy Chief Charles Dowd and other public-safety officials question the direction of the PSST.
March 2009: Cyren Call and the PSST end their relationship. Days later, Verizon Wireless Vice President Steve Zipperstein expresses support for D Block reallocation at IWCE. AT&T agrees, but other wireless carriers that lack 700 MHz spectrum want the D Block auctioned.
January 2010: Public-safety groups form an ad-hoc coalition, later to be known as the Public Safety Alliance.
March 2010: FCC submits its National Broadband Plan, which calls for $6.5 billion for the buildout of a public-safety broadband network — but it would auction the D Block to a commercial operator.
April 2010: The “Big 7” organizations representing state and local governments express their support for D Block reallocation. Rep. Peter King introduces legislation to reallocate the D Block to public safety.
July 2010: Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman introduce a bill to reallocate the D Block and provide network funding. On the same day, Sen. Jay Rockefeller says he will introduce similar legislation that also includes incentive-auction authority for the FCC. The commission halts its plans to auction the D Block to commercial operators.
December 2010: Congress fails to act on D Block proposals, leaving the issue to a new Congress in January 2011.
June 2011: Senate Commerce Committee approves Rockefeller bill reallocating the D Block and providing $11 billion in funding.
December 2011: House passes payroll-tax-cut bill that would reallocate the D Block to public safety and provide $6.5 billion in funding, but public safety would have to return its 700 MHz narrowband spectrum within a decade. Senate opts for a two-month extension of payroll tax cut and sends the rest of the bill to conference.
February 2012: Congress passes D Block reallocation and $7 billion in network funding as part of the payroll-tax-cut package. Public safety has to give back its T-Band spectrum, but not its 700 MHz narrowband spectrum. President Obama signs legislation into law.
- Read the main story, “The big bang,” to learn how public safety got the D Block, federal funding for its broadband network, and what comes next.