Reaction to FCC's public-safety plan mixed

The FCC's proposal to re-auction the D Block of the 700 MHz spectrum band--part of a broader effort to create an interoperable, pubic-safety broadband network--has sparked a mixed bag of reactions. The wireless carrier community has been largely muted on the issue, but a major public-safety group has expressed its disappointment with the plan. The FCC will present the full plan to Congress on March 17.

Yesterday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission's national broadband plan will call on Congress to allocate $12 billion to $16 billion over 10 years to help build the network. He also said the plan will call for public-safety agencies to have access to all of the 700 MHz band, not just the D Block.

The public-safety community has been lobbying Congress to have the D Block reallocated directly to public-safety agencies. In announcing the deal, Homeland Security Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett acknowledged that there would be "various levels of disappointment" within the public-safety community over the plan.

"With the D Block and no funding, there's no national network. But with funding and not the D Block, there is," Barnett said, according to Urgent Communications. "The most crucial to me is to make sure we have the national network, so we're recommending the funding."

The reaction from the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, along with several other major public-safety groups, was swift and unsparing in its disappointment. "While commercial carriers might need the spectrum for applications like Twitter and Facebook, first responders need the spectrum to protect the public and save lives," APCO President Richard Mirgon said in a statement. "Our nation's first responders call on Congress to immediately introduce legislation to allocate the D Block to public safety."

Patrick Halley, the director of government affairs for the National Emergency Number Association, said that NENA would wait until the broadband plan was released before commenting on the public-safety proposal.

Meanwhile, reaction from wireless carriers was remarkable in its silence. Both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility have argued that the D Block should be given directly to public safety on a regional basis, and that the agencies should be allowed to work with private companies and use it as they see fit to build out their network. Both carriers, which are using their 700 MHz holdings for LTE, have urged that LTE be used as the technology to build out the public-safety network. Yet neither AT&T nor Verizon had a comment on the FCC's proposal. A CTIA spokeswoman too said the trade group did not have a comment on the proposal.

T-Mobile USA threw its support behind the proposal, as did Sprint Nextel. Sprint said in a statement that it "stongly supports the chairman's approach of relying on competitive forces to ensure the deployment of public safety broadband communications.

"By permitting public safety to partner with commercial operators, the chairman's competition-minded plan not only promises to tackle the national priority of ensuring broadband communications for public safety, but also to create well-paying, high tech jobs," the company said in a statement. 

For more:
- see this IDG News Service article
- see this Urgent Communications article

Related Articles:
FCC calls for spending up to $16B on nationwide network for public safety
Debate over D Block's fate heats up
What will become of the D-Block?
Public safety groups endorse LTE as broadband solution
Verizon urges scrapping D-Block auction process

Article updated Feb. 26 with statements from Sprint and NENA.