The goal of creating a nationwide, interoperable broadband network for the public-safety community in the D-Block section of the 700 MHz band is not dead. However, it remains in a state of limbo.
A coalition of public-safety organizations--with the hefty backing of AT&T and Verizon Wireless--have coalesced around a proposal that asks Congress to direct the FCC to allocate 10 MHz of spectrum in the D Block directly to the public-safety community in regional chunks. The organizations would then choose private companies through a request for proposal bidding process to build out the network.
While it is unclear whether this proposal will be passed into law and become a reality--there is competing proposal to re-auction the spectrum--most public-safety associations support the effort.
"We believe [the plan endorsed by the public-safety organizations] is a better process that gives public safety more control over the ... outcome," said Harlin McEwen, the chairman of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, a nonprofit corporation made up of public-safety groups.
A bit of background
In 2007 the FCC issued the PSST a nationwide Public Safety Broadband License for 12 MHz of broadband spectrum in the upper 700 MHz band. The D-Block portion of the 700 MHZ band was supposed to be auctioned off as part of the larger 700 MHz spectrum auction in 2008 to a commercial licensee. The winner of the D Block was to form a public-private partnership with the PSST to build out the network.
Though carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility spent billions of dollars on 700 MHz spectrum, the D Block languished because of its public-private partnership stipulations. No bidder met the block's reserve price of $1.3 billion. Subsequently, Congress told the FCC to hold off on further D-Block action until the new administration took over--and the process seemed dead. But this spring, it got revived.
On April 17, Steve Zipperstein, Verizon's vice president for legal and external affairs and the carrier's general counsel, gave a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in which he argued that the D-Block re-auction be scrapped.
Instead, he called for allocating the D-Block spectrum directly to public-safety organizations on a state, local and regional basis, which he said would give public safety more control over the spectrum. While acknowledging that such a move would require action from Congress, Zipperstein said that "bold action" was necessary to "overcome the inertia" of creating an interoperable network for public safety.
In late May, several public-safety organizations, including the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, endorsed the idea. Then, in early June, APCO and two other influential organizations--the National Emergency Number Association and the National Public-Safety Telecommunications Council--endorsed LTE as the preferred technology for the public-safety network. And on Sept. 10, the PSST threw its support behind the plan to get Congress to allocate the spectrum directly to public safety. Click here for a detailed D-Block timeline.
Moving forward with a proposal
Rather than force public safety into a marriage with one provider, as would have happened under the initial D-Block auction plan, Verizon's Zipperstein said the new approach allows "public safety to throw open the process to a whole range of potential partners." But the proposal has a long way to go to become reality. Click here for more details about the outstanding issues.
And, naturally, there is an opposing plan. Some carriers support a re-auction of the D-Block for commercial use, and the resulting proceeds would go toward building out a public-safety network. This plan is supported by Leap Wireless, MetroPCS, the Rural Telecommunications Group and T-Mobile USA.
The problem, according to public safety? The auction won't raise enough money...Continued
Click here for a D Block timeline
Click here for the outstanding issues for public-safety's proposal.
Article updated Sept. 24 to reflect NENA's position.