700-MHz Public Safety Spectrum Status Report

I was recently asked to present a status report on the 700-MHz narrowband and broadband spectrum for several Public Safety agencies. As I was preparing this report, I decided I should also publish it for others to refer to if they choose. You will find a link to a PDF of this report below.

The reasons behind the requests have to do with Public Safety’s expectation that new bills reallocating the 700-MHz D Block to Public Safety and providing funding for the network will be introduced into both houses of Congress early in the year, the FCC’s recent request for comments regarding the shared use of the 700-MHz broadband spectrum for broadband services, and the recent increased activity from the falsely named “Connect Public Safety Now” coalition led by T-Mobile and Sprint/Nextel.

Prior to the end of the last session of Congress, Public Safety had the support of many Senators and Representatives for the three bills previously introduced (two in the Senate and one in the House) but there were some Senators and Representatives siding with the FCC’s recommendation in its National Broadband Report, which is to proceed with the auction of the D Block for commercial broadband network operation.

The FCC believes, wrongly I believe, that Public Safety can provide nationwide broadband services on only 10 MHz of spectrum if it is also given priority access to the D Block as well as the 700-MHz spectrum being built out by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless. Last year (2010) saw a lot of activity on both sides of this discussion. The FCC issued two white papers, one outlining the cost savings for commercial/private network sharing, and one detailing its position that 10 MHz of spectrum is sufficient for Public Safety’s use on a day-to-day basis.

In support of this, T-Mobile issued its own white paper, written by experts in wireless (most of whom have no direct LTE experience). This white paper echoed the FCC’s findings that 10 MHz of spectrum is enough for Public Safety IF, and this is a big if, Public Safety also employs the exiting 50 MHz of short-range, Wi-Fi-like spectrum at 4.8 GHz and IF some of the narrowband spectrum allocation at 700 MHz is shared with wireless broadband services.

The Public Safety community, unified under the Public Safety Alliance (PSA), fired back at these white papers as did some of the Public Safety communications vendors that support the reallocation of the D Block to  Public Safety. I also submitted my own white papers and filings that point out that both the FCC and the T-Mobile sponsored white papers were based on false assumptions and I requested that the FCC revisit its view on this issue.

Later in the year, the FCC issued a new white paper that discusses the growth of wireless broadband-capable devices and increases in demand for broadband services, which concluded that by 2013 the United States will be 95 MHz short in broadband spectrum allocation. This white paper was supposed to bolster the FCC’s recommendation that it reallocate 300 MHz of spectrum for broadband use within five years of the report’s submission and an additional 200 MHz of spectrum over the following five years. My response to this white paper was to point out that, in reality, it supported the Public Safety community’s contention that 10 MHz of spectrum is enough for Public Safety’s broadband network, and that the data showed the reallocation of the D Block is the proper course of action.

As the debate continues into 2011 (the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11), the D Block issue is still not resolved, and the FCC has yet to comment on the hundreds of responses it received on the idea of sharing narrowband spectrum with broadband services (more than 90% of which said that permitting sharing of narrowband channels would negate the ability for Public Safety to have both nationwide narrowband and nationwide broadband interoperable networks).

It is important, therefore, to help educate all of the new members in Congress as well as to redouble our efforts to convince those within Congress who support the D Block auction that this would be detrimental to Public Safety. Instead of providing a single slice of spectrum for Public Safety broadband use, the FCC would end up in a few short years having to find more broadband spectrum for Public Safety use in a totally different portion of the spectrum. This would mean additional expense for Public Safety and require that all broadband devices in the field be replaced with new dual-band product—the same problem that created the lack of voice interoperability more than thirty years ago.

I offer the attached PDF file to any of you who want to make use of it to brief your Public Safety and elected officials. Feel free to copy it and hand it out or use it for talking points in meetings. If you are interested in the supporting articles I have written on this subject, please visit our website and scroll down to my Public Safety Advocate section where you will find numerous articles I have written this past year. If you are interested in what has been filed with the FCC by myself and others, visit FCC.Gov, and scroll down to the Filing Public Comments section and search on 06-229 (or follow the link I have provided for 06-229).  You can then search on my name or the name of any other organization or person who has filed comments.

I hope you find the attached document helpful and if you have any comments or suggestions please send them to me or click on the comment section of this column and add them so others can read them as well. If you have not already signed up for my free publications (TELL IT LIKE IT IS blog, COMMENTARY, and/or my PUBLIC SAFETY ADVOCATE column) please visit our website and sign up. If you sign up for the PUBLIC SAFETY ADVOCATE you will also receive a free weekly update of news articles and stories dealing with Public Safety communications including the D Block, 700-MHz narrowband channels, the FCC’s Mandate on Narrow Banding, and other issues of interest. This weekly news summary is brought to you by our partnership with News Patterns. News Patterns collects thousands of articles each week by categories of interest and not only presents a recap of the articles with links, in a more advanced version of the offering, it plots the articles on a radar screen so relationships between articles and subjects can be tracked on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

2011 is a pivotal year for Public Safety communications. It is a year when, I am confident, Congress will vote to reallocate the D Block to Public Safety, the narrowband 700-MHz channels will remain as they are, and some of the organizations that obtained waivers to build out their 700-MHz broadband systems will bring them online.

Andrew M. Seybold



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