CTIA and some members of Congress were immediately opposed to the idea proposed last week by Nextel co-founder Morgan O'Brien that the FCC set aside 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band for a national broadband public-safety network. The network would be run by a public-private partnership with commercial operators that would fund network infrastructure deployment in exchange for leveraging the 700 MHz band for wireless business opportunities. One of the main arguments against it: The FCC has already set aside 24 megahertz of spectrum for public safety in that band and $1 billion of the proceeds from the auction of frequencies in that band are earmarked by Congress to fund first-responder communications.
But let's be real about this 24 megahertz of airwaves. Public safety was promised this spectrum nearly 10 years ago as a way to ease overcrowding in its existing frequencies. Broadband wireless was a neophyte then, and the requirements the FCC put in place for that spectrum only allows for voice and narrowband data services. In light of this, the public-safety community recently asked the FCC to modify its rules to allow for additional broadband data in the 700 MHz band and to let public safety choose how to divide the band, rather than being limited to a rigid 12 MHz voice/12 MHz data split. Any change will likely be done on a regional, not a national scale, and many jurisdictions suffering from voice congestion for the last 10 years will likely use the majority of the spectrum for desperately needed voice services. So I don't see any great broadband nationwide interoperable play here. Public safety lobbied hard to secure just 10 megahertz extra in the 700 MHz band so it could actually do broadband data nationwide, but enactment of the budget-reconciliation measure on Capitol Hill effectively ended any chance of that.
I've covered the public-safety space long enough to know that the wireless needs of public safety have been ignored for so long that it's almost impossible to play catch-up, no matter how much you throw at it. Federal grants are barely making a dent toward the greatest need of all--the ability for police, firefighters and other first responders to actually communicate with each other on the same system in the same jurisdiction. We witnessed that terrible fact on 9/11. Their lack of interoperability and broadband data capabilities that can transmit critical information is shameful given the fact that public-safety communications is literally a life or death situation.
Yet CTIA President Steve Largent reminded us that if any changes to the 700 MHz auctions are done, billions of dollars in revenue that will flow to the U.S. Treasury are at stake. Unfortunately, Congress has a spend-before-you-actually-get-the-money mantra and has already allocated the billions expected to be raised from the 700 MHz auction. We all know where O'Brien's plan is going. - Lynnette