Outstanding issues

While much of the public-safety community has coalesced around a plan to have Congress direct the FCC to reallocate the D Block directly to public-safety organizations, there remain a whole host of questions and outstanding issues about both the plan and what happens from here. Here is a brief look at some of them:

The opposition plan. Leap Wireless, MetroPCS, Rural Telecommunications Group and T-Mobile USA argue for a re-auction of the D Block for commercial use, where the proceeds would go toward building out the network.

"As AT&T and Verizon Wireless concede, the present allocation of the Upper 700MHz D Block for commercial use cannot be altered by the commission and would instead require Congressional action," they wrote in a June 23 letter to the FCC. "Should Congress choose to act, the public interest would be better served by it dedicating funding from the auction of the 700 MHz D Block to public safety use rather than reallocating that spectrum to public safety.

Cost. The cost of the plan the public safety groups have rallied around is unknown. In April, Steve Zipperstein, Verizon's vice president for legal and external affairs and the carrier's general counsel, estimated the plan could cost between $15 billion and $20 billion. That cost, however, would be defrayed by allowing the public-safety community to use existing network infrastructure.

"The idea is to give public safety complete control of the radio spectrum by giving them the D Block, but let them marry up that spectrum with existing networks that have been built to save them the time of building their own network," he said. "And then fill in white spaces with more cell sites [and] infrastructure that doesn't exist."

George Rice Jr., APCO's executive director, said it is difficult to asses how much of the network would be built using current network infrastructure operated the public-safety community as well as infrastructure from the private sector. "From our perspective it's very difficult to understand how all of that would come together and create a cost estimate for the building the network," he said.

FCC involvement. Technically, the FCC still has authority over what to do with the D Block. The commission is studying what to do at the bureau level right now, according to Robert Kenny, a spokesman for the FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau. "We do expect to present something for the chairman in the near future," he said.

But if the public-safety organizations get their wish, the FCC will essentially be giving up its authority to settle the matter. "From the FCC's perspective, it's a problem," said Harold Feld, legal director at consumer advocacy organization Public Knowledge. "What that amounts to is an official decision to pass the buck back to Congress. They can do that. But God knows, if you're the chair of the FCC, it's not pleasant."

Waivers. Also complicating the matter is the fact that 12 municipalities and one private entity have filed waivers with the FCC, and are seeking to begin building out 700 MHz networks before a national plan is put in place. The waivers are currently pending.

There are a total of 12 petitioners. The state or local jurisdictions seeking waiver are:

  • The City of Boston (Boston)
  • The City and County of San Francisco, the City of Oakland, and the City of San Jose (Bay Area)
  • The State of New Jersey (New Jersey)
  • The City of New York (New York City)
  • The District of Columbia (DC)
  • The State of New York (NYS)
  • The City of Chesapeake, Virginia (Chesapeake);
  • The City of San Antonio, Bexar County, and Comal County, Texas (San Antonio)
  • The State of New Mexico (New Mexico)
  • The State of North Dakota
  • The City of Charlotte, North Carolina (Charlotte)
  • Several counties and the City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Iowa Coalition)
  • In addition, one commercial entity, Flow Mobile, has filed a petition.

Harlin McEwen, the chairman of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, said the PSST has had discussions with most of them, and that they realize that anything they do will have to conform to the standards of whatever national plan emerges.

"So anything that they are going to do will have to be approved by us and the FCC in a way that will not detract from or harm a nationwide network," he said.

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