On June 17, representatives from the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) called a press teleconference directly after a House Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing on the fate of the D Block, the 10 MHz of spectrum in the 700 band adjacent to public safety’s spectrum. The hearing also addressed H.R. 4827, which would allocate the D Block to public safety, and the FCC’s recently released white paper.
The PSA has launched a national advertising and grassroots campaign calling on Congress to modify the FCC’s proposed auction of the D Block, as included in its national broadband plan, and urging members to support H.R. 4827.
During the teleconference, representatives blasted the FCC’s position and its recently released white paper, saying that the policy decision preceded the paper and that its findings were designed to justify the position.
On June 15, the FCC released a white paper titled, The Public Safety Nationwide Interoperable Broadband Network, A New Model For Capacity, Performance and Cost. The paper’s position is that the 10 MHz of spectrum currently allocated to public safety can provide the capacity and performance necessary for day-to-day communications and serious emergency situations. One study cited says that 10 MHz of spectrum can yield the same capacity as more than 160 MHz if the correct technology, architecture and devices are used. As part of this analysis, the FCC examined two real-life events, the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse and Hurricane Ike hitting Houston, and additional empirical data supporting this conclusion.
In the FCC press release about the study, FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett said, “Our goal is to bring true interoperable mobile broadband communications to America’s first responders. The FCC study shows how we can maximize capacity, performance, reliability and resiliency of public safety broadband communications even in the most extraordinary emergencies when lifesaving response efforts are underway and communications demands are at their peak.
“The key is capacity. Spectrum is only one factor,” Barnett continued. “This plan provides extraordinary capacity to public safety. … Merely allocating an additional 10 MHz to public safety would be like building a separate, stand-alone highway system, and one so expensive that it would not even reach every community in America for years.” (Click here to read the full release.)
During the press conference, public safety representatives expressed their disappointment with the FCC and emphasized the need to persevere. PSA representative and San Jose Police Department Chief Rob Davis said, “We realized that there are a lot of forces stacked against us. We are undaunted; our goal now is to lay the foundation for the build out of a public safety interoperable broadband network; we feel that is getting the spectrum first then worrying about the money. If we don’t get the spectrum, everything else is a moot point.”
The public safety community’s position that the D Block should be allocated to public safety has state support. A group of organizations known as the big seven (the National Governor’s Association, the Council of State Governments, the National League of Cities, the International City/County Management Association, the National Conference of State Legislators, the National Association of Counties and the U.S. conference of Mayors) sent a letter to Congress on June 15.
The letter states, “As you know, the FCC plans to auction the D block for commercial purposes. In its National Broadband Plan, the FCC proposes to meet public safety spectrum needs by providing roaming and priority access on other commercial 700 MHz networks for a fee. This proposal is insufficient because it will not meet stringent public safety requirements necessary to protect lives and will increase the costs of achieving and maintaining operable and interoperable emergency communications for years to come.” (Click here to read the full letter.)
When asked why public safety can’t get the spectrum or funding for a national public safety broadband network, panel members responded that they have not been given an adequate reason. “We need contiguousspectrum,” said Davis. “We have told them our position loud and clear; they are not listening. They need to get on our frequency. America’s public safety is crying out for them to do the right thing.”