FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Few things are more important to street cops than radio communication. When it works well, it's a lifeline. When it fails, it can cause anything from delay to death. Following several watershed events in public safety communications, the federal government directed large amounts of money and resources toward improving communication interoperability around the country. Long before Sept. 11, 2001, Congress had authorized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reassign the spectrum used by TV channels 60 69 in the 700 MHz range for public auction and use. Out of the vacated spectrum, Congress directed that 24 MHz be set aside for public safety. The vacating of channels was to be done by 2000, but the deadline is now Feb. 18, 2009. As that date approaches, some experts have voiced concern that 24 MHz is just not enough bandwidth to achieve both improved interoperability and increased broadband capability given the current operational demands of public safety.
A company named Cyren Call has put forward a bold proposal asking the FCC to dedicate a modified block of frequencies totaling 30 MHz for an interoperable broadband network built by private sector companies to public safety specifications. The spectrum would be shared, and revenue generated from commercial use would offset public safety costs.
Cyren Call suggests a Public Safety Trust be established and a bandmaster company direct day-to-day operations. Of course, Cyren Call wants to be that bandmaster because this position would benefit from the huge revenues generated by the commercial use. For some, Cyren Call s idea is quite alluring; for others, somewhat alarming. So what's the problem? After all, isn't this a great way to get increased interoperability on the cheap?
As I write this, Cyren Call has turned up the heat on their efforts. Stating the need for congressional approval of the plan, the FCC dismissed the Cyren Call petition, so comments on the plan now serve as an advisory to Congress. Cyren Call has actively solicited support, asking that favorable comments be sent to the FCC. In fact, they will actually supply you a letter to make it easy for you to tell the FCC what you think. Well, not exactly what you think; more like what Cyren Call thinks, with your name inserted.
Cyren Call has also done a great job of marketing itself to major public safety organizations, and infers the formal resolutions from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) are resolutions of support for Cyren Call. This isn t quite true, however. If you actually read the resolutions, you ll see they support the concept of additional public safety bandwidth. But the resolutions from IACP and IAFC do not even mention Cyren Call by name. APCO s statement says Cyren Call . . . may (emphasis added) be a viable framework for that effort, and the NENA statement asks the FCC . . . to seek public comment on the Cyren Call proposal. I respect these organizations, and I believe they are trying to act in their members best interest. Keep in mind, though, it s been a long time since many of their elected representatives have actually been in push-to-talk mode.
We need to proceed very carefully at this point; it s time for due diligence and investigation. Regardless of governmental action, this proposal won t be a public safety panacea. We must ask substantive questions, including:
- Will there be sufficient oversight and inclusiveness of the Public Safety Trust at the local, regional and state levels?
- What about coverage requirements across the U.S.? Cyren Call has proposed only 65 percent terrestrial coverage, augmented by next-generation satellite technology. What about that other 35 percent of the country? Satellite coverage is not a given, and has difficulty when on the move.
- What about the commercial interests of major cellular companies? The Cyren Call proposal will directly affect their bottom line. Don t forget: Competition is virtually always a good thing for the consumer, and many departments rely on cellular systems almost as much as they do their radios.
- What about the work being done on Software Defined Radio and the use of similar technology to enhance interoperability? This technology has promise and may be the real solution for effective and efficient interoperability between areas.
You may recall the Sirens from Greek mythology, creatures who lured sailors into treacherous waters with their irresistible song. We need to be careful the allure of Cyren Call is not akin to the Sirens call, waiting with hidden perils. Study the proposals, ask the tough questions and remember, there is no free lunch.
—DALE Stockton, editor