FCC wants commercial operators to build public safety 700 MHz network

The Federal Communications Commission doesn't plan to make the recommendation that public safety receive the 10-megahertz of spectrum in the D-block 700 MHz band when it presents its national broadband plan to Congress in March, said Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC's public-safety and homeland-security bureau.

That's because current law requires the FCC to auction the D-block spectrum to commercial operators, Barnett told the audience at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Winter Summit. Back in 2008, when the 700 MHz spectrum was auctioned, the D-block swath, which was set aside for a public-private partnership for public-safety services, failed to receive the minimum bid required to win the spectrum. APCO and other public-safety organizations are now asking lawmakers for the spectrum directly. That spectrum would be added to the 10-megahertz of spectrum public safety has already been allocated to create a 20-megahertz network.

 "It would be great to have 20 MHz," Barnett said in an article from Urgent Communications. "The problem that we have right now as we pursue this is that the D Block is dedicated to commercial use - we're actually under a mandate to auction it. So we had to figure out a way to come up with a viable system even if you don't get the D Block."

Instead, the commission wants a public/private proposal that calls for 700 MHz commercial carriers to build out the public-safety broadband wireless network--likely using LTE--which should greatly reduce the capital costs associated with the first-responder network, Barnett said. 

"When the truck goes out to put up the commercial broadband network, they're actually installing the antennas and boxes," Barnett said. "One of the things that is very encouraging is that it's obvious the carriers are already planning for this--they've already looked at what it would take to do this. Some of them have come up with some very innovative things... What we're getting from them is that it would be economically advantageous to do it all together, and that just makes sense," he said.   

Another benefit of such a plan would be to allow public-safety users to roam on the networks of commercial 700 MHz commercial operators to obtain additional bandwidth.

Of course, the big question is how to fund the network.

For more:
- see this Urgent Communications article

Related articles:
Debate over D Block's fate heats up
Verizon urges scrapping D-Block auction process
FCC proposes new plan to auction D-Block
Is the D-Block dead?
Congress takes on failure of D-block auction

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