Public Safety Advocate

Thu Sep 8 19:39:20 2016

New Hampshire Update

A Rivada Networks press release indicates that the State of New Hampshire has moved forward and awarded what is being called a no cost contract for building out the FirstNet spectrum in that state. This contract would only become effective in the event the governor chooses not to accept the FirstNet State Plan (not yet finalized or released by FirstNet). This, of course, is the state’s choice, though it is difficult to understand why the governor and executive council would prematurely close the door on their future options relative to FirstNet.

Forewarned is Forearmed 

One item in the contract that I pointed out last week is very disturbing and that is the section that indicates the contractor (Rivada in this case) will assist the state in working with the FCC to convert the existing 700-MHz Land Mobile Radio (LMR) channels licensed to the state, to additional broadband spectrum. As mentioned, this move would end up causing a number of problems for the surrounding states in terms of interference, interoperability, and spectrum that is still needed for LMR services throughout the nation. Title VI of the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2012 does provide for the possibility of conversion of the existing 700-MHz LMR spectrum to broadband use but I am not sure exactly what Congress had in mind when it added this provision to the law. However, if and when this transition occurs, it needs to be nationwide and it needs to be something the Public Safety community wants.

It could also be that the New Hampshire award and that particular statement in the contract are a pre-cursor of things to come. Suppose, for example, the same company that won the New Hampshire contract won the FirstNet contract. Suppose it then convinced Congress (using its newly acquired political clout) to repurpose the entire 700-MHz Public Safety band and fold it into FirstNet so it could have secondary access to a lot more spectrum than the 20-MHz of FirstNet’s licensed spectrum.

We have already seen what could happen when members of Congress are persuaded to make decisions without the technical expertise to make them more intelligently. I refer, of course, to the requirement, also in the Act, that the eleven major markets that are today employing vacant TV channels (T-band) for additional voice communications systems will have to return that spectrum to the FCC in a few years. In many cases there is no additional spectrum for these agencies to be moved to nor any funding to make it happen even if there were spectrum.

This could then lead to making broadband the primary form of Public Safety communications. However, this determination will not be made by the Public Safety community when it is ready, but rather by a vendor and a political system that does not require a technical assessment or consideration before something is passed into law. After all, while the FCC knows the issues, its funding comes from Congress, too. I hope I am way off base but I still have to wonder why a state with 1.3 million people and an average population per square mile of 147 truly needs access to more than 20 MHz of prime broadband spectrum for its Public Safety community.

Of course the winning partner for FirstNet is entitled to a good return on its investment, and no one will fault any of the bidders for that, but at what cost to Public Safety users who are the ultimate and most important customers for this network. I also have to wonder if a vendor believes it needs more spectrum, why then did it not take part in the 600-MHz auction where the spectrum will become available and not at the expense of the Public Safety community. My recommendation, for what it is worth, is to leave the 700-MHz LMR spectrum intact. When and if it can be converted for broadband use, the Public Safety community, FirstNet, and the FCC should make that determination, not a vendor.

Andrew Seybold

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