The D Block (shaded purple) will be used tp create a nationwide broadband network.
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The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) held its fifth annual Winter Summit Jan. 28 30 in Orlando, Fla. Much of the final day was focused on 700 MHz issues.
On Feb. 17, 2009, television stations must vacate spectrum within the 700-MHz band, freeing up frequencies now being auctioned off. The D Block portion of these frequencies is intended to be used to create a nationwide broadband network. The plan is to create a partnership between the public safety community and a commercial licensee, said FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Chief Derek Poarch, to build out a state-of-the art, nationwide, IP-based network that will meet public safety s requirements.
Poarch said the partnership will provide a source of funding to build the network, which has been the largest obstacle for public safety to date. It will result in large economies of scale, the opportunity to use commercial off-the-shelf equipment technologies, and access to additional spectrum that will create significant capacity for public safety communications in a time of crisis.
The Commission will remain active in ensuring that the needs of both the public safety community and the commercial licensee are met, said Poarch. A significant responsibility coming up will be the negotiation of the Network Sharing Agreement between the PSST and its commercial partner. This agreement will govern the partnership and must be approved by the Commission. One very key element of the Network Sharing Agreement is agreement on a broadband standard, which will provide for a nationwide level of interoperability and allow voice, video and data transfer for first responders, health care and government. The Network Sharing Agreement must also include, among other things, a detailed build-out schedule for the network and the fees that will be charged.
The auction, which began Jan. 24, had attracted only one bidder for the D Block at the time of the summit, and an attendee asked Poarch about the FCC s plans if the auction doesn t draw the minimum bid. I certainly can t speculate, said Poarch, but I m sure everyone at the Commission is hopeful the bidding will continue. We re hopeful that the minimum will be met. If not, we ll re-look at all of our options, including re-auctioning.
The identity of the current bidder was a source of speculation at the summit. Poach refused to comment on the bidder s identity. He told Public Safety Communications magazine, The auction is run by the Wireless Bureau, and it s kept confidential even within the Commission ... and it s probably better that way for me.
The auction is anticipated to end in mid March. Assuming there s a successful bidder, the timeline for the commercial entity to reach a network sharing agreement with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) and establish a timetable for building out the network is aggressive. Parties will have six months to complete agreement negotiations. By the fourth year following the Feb. 17, 2009, digital transition date, 75 percent of the population must be covered, and by the 10th year, 99.3 percent of the population must be covered.
The PSST's responsibilities include promoting public safety's broadband spectrum needs; administering access to the 700-MHz public safety broadband network; assessing usage fees; approving equipment and applications used by public safety entities; overseeing the relocation of 700-MHz public safety narrowband operations; reviewing requests for early build-out locations and wideband waiver requests; managing the internal guard band between public safety broadband and narrowband operations; and managing access to commercial broadband spectrum in the D Block during emergencies.
The PSST also must ensure that technology specs are stringent enough to meet public safety s requirements while still providing manufacturers with an incentive to develop devices suitable for public safety and commercial users.
Keri Losavio is the editor of Public Safety Communications. Contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.