Utilities angling to use public safety's 700 MHz broadband spectrum

The 700 MHz broadband spectrum allocated for a nationwide public-safety LTE network looks mighty attractive to utilities, which contend they are logical partners to share in the spectrum bounty.

Connie Durcsak, CEO of the Utilities Telecom Council, told Telecompetitor that being included in plans for the nationwide public safety network was a key success for UTC."When you look at what really happens on the ground [in an emergency], interoperability is essential," said Durcsak.

Tom Perry, who was recently selected to serve as chairman of the board for UTC and who is also the superintendent of system communications at Santee Cooper, told Telecompetitor that utilities consider themselves first responders. "We may not be the guy with the fire hose, but we're right there beside him and we have to secure things before he can go in," he said.

Perry said UTC members also hopevto share spectrum in the 1.8 GHz band with government users.

However, not everyone is so sure that this sharing idea should be pursued, at least not until the public safety network is sufficiently built out and the communications needs of law enforcement, fire services and other emergency services workers are satisfied. And even those who support the idea, acknowledge that there is much to be worked out regarding how such partnerships should function.

Seasoned public-safety communications leader Harlin McEwen, speaking at the recent Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference in Minneapolis, agreed that utilities should have access to public-safety spectrum. "We just have to come up with a way to manage that. We're willing to talk," he said, according to Urgent Communications.

Complementary assets between the two groups include public-safety's dedicated spectrum and public utilities' existing infrastructures--including fiber for backhaul--and steady revenue streams, which could be used to help fund the buildout of public-safety's broadband network.

One of the new board members of FirstNet--which will oversee the creation of public-safety's 700 MHz LTE network--is Tim Bryan, CEO of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), whose members include rural power co-ops and rural telco operators.

According to FierceWireless contributor Andrew Seybold, who also serves as vice-chairman of the APCO Broadband Committee and is the broadband communications advisor to both the National Sheriffs' Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a partnership between NRCT and public safety would enable the nationwide broadband network to be rolled out in rural areas at less expense to the public safety community.

"Further, the co-ops could use the spectrum on a secondary basis for smart grid, meter reading and reselling broadband to their rural customers. By law, the income from this resale must go to FirstNet and could then be used to help fund the monthly operational costs of the network," he said.

For more:
- see this Telecompetitor article
- see this Urgent Communications article
- see this CWTA release

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