The day of the President’s State of the Union Address (January 18), several members of the Executive branch of the government had a conference call with a number of high-ranking Public Safety officials and conveyed to them that the Executive Branch now supports the reallocation of the D Block to Public Safety as well as the partial funding of the nationwide network from future spectrum auctions which, therefore, will not add to the national debt.
During his State of the Union address, the President said one line about a fireman having the ability to download a set of plans for a burning building but not much more. Then on January 31, 2011, one representative from the Executive Branch who had been on the call indicated in a speech that Public Safety would get the D Block and things have been looking up for this more than two-year-old quest by Public Safety for sufficient spectrum for a nationwide 700-MHz broadband system. Unfortunately, this official from the Executive branch, while saying what he/she believed, failed to mention that in order to make the D Block reallocation a reality, it would still have to be passed by both houses of Congress.
Only days prior to the State of the Union address, Senator Rockefeller (D-WVA) reintroduced his bill in the Senate calling for the D Block reallocation to Public Safety and the funding of the network from proceeds from future spectrum auctions. This bill is called “The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act” Senate S.28.IS. It was co-sponsored by Senators Lautenberg (D, NJ), Nelson (D, FL), ( Klobuchar (D-MN), Cardin (D-MD) and Harkin (D-IA). Last time around this bill went through one hearing and then Congress ran out of time. This time, especially with the backing of the Executive Branch, I think it has a good chance of being passed with, I hope, a few amendments to the contents.
Meanwhile, I think it will be more difficult to get a bill that will resemble the Rockefeller bill through the House. Last Year, Representative King (R, NY) introduced a bill reallocating the D Block to Public Safety but with no funding attached to it. At the end of the Congressional session, 80 members of the House of Representatives had signed on as co-sponsors. However, since then, the November elections have changed the make-up of the House and many of the new members were elected on promises to cut the national debt. While the D Block and funding would not impact the current national debt, it would remove about $3 billion in spectrum auction proceeds as well as another $10 billion in future spectrum auction revenue from the table.
I am still very optimistic that Public Safety will prevail, especially during the year of the tenth anniversary of the tragic 9/11 attack in New York when the lack of Public Safety communications interoperability first came to the attention of the general public. (In reality, it has been plaguing the Public Safety community for more than thirty years). However, a lot of work remains to be done by the Public Safety Alliance (PSA), the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), and other organizations. Another point of good news is that the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) have thrown their support to the reallocation of the D Block. Previously, they were counted among the supporters of the inappropriately named “Connect Public Safety Now” organization that is pushing for the D Block to be auctioned. This organization, spearheaded by T-Mobile and Sprint/Nextel, contends that the best way to accomplish the goal of a nationwide Public Safety broadband network is to auction the D Block and use the funds to pay for the Public Safety network. However, NONE of the members of this group have ever come forward to say they would offer up their networks on a priority basis for Public Safety when Public Safety runs out of spectrum. Further, and more interesting to me, is that none of these companies or organizations seems to have bid on any 700-MHz spectrum at the first auction and certainly not for the D Block, which only had one bidder that did not meet the minimum bid requirements. The fact that the two unions have come over to the side of the D Block reallocation is very encouraging and can only help sway Democratic members of Congress in both houses.
But there is still a lot of work to do. Rumor has it that Representative King will reintroduce his bill in the House very soon. What is unknown at this point is if it will be more in line with the Rockefeller bill or if it still won’t include funding for the Public Safety network. At the end of the day, if both bills pass the House and Senate, they will have to be reconciled in order to have a common bill for the President to sign.
Meanwhile, the “Connect Public Safety Now” folks are not giving up and continue to publish and provide what I consider to be false information about public/private network sharing. If they agreed to provide Public Safety with full pre-emptive priority on their network when needed, this would still not solve the problem since unless a mobile unit can gain access to the network via the signaling channel, the network won’t even know if there is a request for priority. This is one of the points missed by this group and of the great concern to me as I look at the broadband landscape.
A renewed effort to contact our Representatives and Senators is in order. The Public Safety Alliance and APCO are doing all they can to educate the Representatives and Senators, or at least their staff members. I have found out how difficult it is to schedule a meeting with one of these elected officials without having to spend countless hours talking to their staffers first. It is refreshing to me that those in the Executive Branch who set up the conference call with Public Safety leaders were actually on the phone call themselves. For my part, I have repeatedly contacted my Representative and Senator via email and U.S. mail and each time I have received a very polite “thank you for contacting me” canned note in return. While I realize that these elected officials are very busy, and that they are overloaded with emails and letters, it seems to me that an issue of this importance would elicit a personal reply from at least a staff member.
For the good of the citizens, our elected officials, and the Public Safety community, the D Block must be reallocated to Public Safety or the goal of a Public Safety nationwide broadband interoperability network will never be realized. Over the past two years or more, I have spent a lot of time working with LTE and data rates, setting up scenarios of real-world, almost-daily emergency situations and many others have worked the same problems with the same results. Ten megaHertz of spectrum is simply not enough.
Digressing for a moment, when a commercial network operator is planning a network, it probably elects to use the 3GPP standard committee’s capacity test. This test states that in an area covered by 19 cell sites, each of which has three sectors (for a total of 57 sectors), and with known interference evenly spread across the entire number of sectors, the capacity of the network can be calculated based on a performance formula. This is NOT a valid way of measuring Public Safety requirements. In essence, most Public Safety incidents occur in small geographic areas, most of which will be covered even in a dense urban environment, by a single cell sector or at most three overlapping cell sectors. Therefore, the data rates for Public Safety need to be based on the capacity of a single cell sector rather than 57 cell sectors spread out over a much larger geographic area.
So far, it appears as though those who are determined to have the D Block auctioned are not listening to comments from me or any of the experts who work with LTE every day. If the D Block is auctioned, the result will be more of the same. By that I mean that in only a few years, the FCC will realize that Public Safety does not have enough broadband spectrum and will try to “find” another small sliver of spectrum in a different block, compounding the problems that have been plaguing Public Safety for more than thirty years. The way to stop this type of piecemeal spectrum allocation for Public Safety is clear: Assign the D Block to Public Safety, fund the network, at least partially, and leave the existing narrowband voice spectrum, also located in the 700-MHz band, alone. Over time, this will result in our Public Safety first responders being able to carry a single device that is capable of high-speed data, video, and mission-critical voice communications. (Wow, sounds like one of the smartphones we all carry today!)
With all the good or wonderful news Public Safety has received in the past few weeks, please don’t believe it has won the battle. There is still a long way to go and everyone needs to renew their efforts in support of the Public Safety community. It may sound trite, but your voice could be the one that changes the mind of one of our Representatives or Senators and convinces him or her to vote in favor of Public Safety and the D Block.
On a Personal Note
During this past two weeks I have accepted two committee appointments that I value greatly. The first is a Vice Chair of the newly formed APCO Broadband Committee. This committee is made up of both full members and commercial members of APCO (I am a commercial member) and it is charged with helping APCO and its members better understand the implications of adding broadband to their networks—what it will mean, how it will work, and how we can ensure that all of the pieces and parts will work together on a nationwide basis.
The second was a letter I received from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski appointing me a member of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) for the FCC’s Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC). I will be representing the National Sheriff’s Association. From what I have learned to date, this committee will include many talented members of the Public Safety community, the vendor community, and others who are focused on making the Public Safety Broadband network a reality as quickly as possible.
I am deeply honored to have been chosen for both positions and I will do my best to add value to both organizations as they move forward. As many of you know, I have donated my time and energy to helping Public Safety obtain the D Block and retain the 700-MHz narrowband channels. Even after this has been accomplished, there will be much to do. I look forward to continuing to assist the Public Safety community in its efforts to bring its communications into the 21st century and to equip itself with devices and technology that are readily available to all of the citizens of the United States and around the world—but still not available to the Public Safety community, even with its typically mission-critical communications.
Andrew M. Seybold