What You Need to Know About 4.9GHz

By Richard Mirgon

Let’s start with one basic fact. The Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA) has said from day one, over three years ago, that existing users of 4.9 GHz spectrum must be protected as we move forward developing better uses for the spectrum. If we go down the path that CERCI (Verizon, T Mobile and the Utilities) wants us to go down, it is the same path as the last 20 years with the only difference being expanded use by the utilities which equates to free spectrum for utilities – the FCC will take the spectrum away. We know this because they just tried. Let me also point out it was the PSSA and APCO that saved the spectrum by taking on the fight to stop the FCC three years ago. You might ask why only those two groups. Well, it is because it wasn’t that important to the other groups and / or they weren’t paying attention. The PSSA has fought to protect current users and to expand the use of the spectrum that benefits all first responders and when I say all that is exactly what I mean. The only way all of our nation’s first responders get the benefits of that band is to incorporate it into FirstNet. Here is the point folks aren’t thinking about. We can do both and there are technologies that can make that work. The perfect example that we all understand is you can have one or two WiFi’s in your house and all your neighbors can also since these devices all use the same spectrum. They behave well together, and we see it at work every day. What this example is those networks don’t have priority and preemption like FirstNet. There are other ways current users can be protected which is why the PSSA suggested a band manager. 

FirstNet needs the 4.9GHz spectrum to be able to provide those new services such as augmented reality and multiple video streams for critical events. We need to keep FirstNet robust and on the cutting edge. You do that with the allocation of the 4.9GHz public safety broadband network to FirstNet so that it is part of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network spectrum holdings. For FirstNet to meet the future needs of public safety, additional spectrum needs to be added to the FirstNet network. Full stop! Others inaccurately like to pontificate by saying that it will become AT&T spectrum. Not true. AT&T is the contractor to build and operate FirstNet. They don’t own FirstNet. This is an easy lie to tell by the opposition, but it is a blatant lie to say AT&T will own the spectrum. The reality is that FirstNet is governed by a Board of Public Safety Officials that must follow federal law in everything it does. We don’t know how they will enable it, but that is why they are there. Remember, the FirstNet Authority consists of a board of public safety officials, private sector executives and a professional staff. It is their job to do what is best for public safety. And so far, their record is outstanding. 5.5 million users on the network, 27,000 agencies and thousands of applications all in just a few short years. They have built the largest and most effective public safety broadband network in the world. Clearly, they can be trusted to do what is best for OUR network. They have proven it!

Yet with all that good work there are those that oppose it. Many would ask why would someone oppose something that has proven to be a major success for all of public safety? The simple answer is money. This coalition, that has become known as CERCI, has as its major supporters Verizon and T-Mobile. That is simple to understand. Many of those 5.5 million users left their commercial networks for a hardened public safety network that offers true priority, preemption and local control. The math is simple. Let’s say one of the carriers lost 1 million of those 5.5 million to FirstNet. Take whatever number you want to use as an average monthly cell phone bill and multiply by 1 million times 12 and that is at minimum lost revenue by that carrier. That number will be in the area of one half a billion dollars a year. Now that is corporate motivation! 

Next, you have utilities that want free spectrum to build their own networks. They need spectrum for their own operations and without it, they, as for-profit companies, must buy spectrum like any other company which would cost them billions of dollars. If they save that money with free spectrum, their stock price goes up and they make huge profits. Sometimes they use their excess spectrum for commercial use selling it to other companies. They are all motivated strictly for corporate gain. 

Then you have a couple of public safety associations that are supporting CERCI. I can’t tell you exactly why they have joined Verizon, T-Mobile, Edison Electric, and others and have proposed to share our public safety spectrum with the critical infrastructure industry (CII), (and yes that is part of their position.)  But I do think it is time for them, the public safety board members of those associations, to explain how allowing CII (which includes utilities, transportation, commercial facilities, financial sector, defense industry and others) to use your spectrum is good for you. I also know that only those states, counties and cities with money could even try and build, but history has shown it will fail. The reality is that if CII gets this spectrum, the average first responder will never get access under their plan because they can’t afford to build or effectively manage such networks. The other reality is that that once CII gets access to and uses this spectrum, we will never get them off it. 

Look, at the end of the day, we have already tried to build local control networks – been there, done that. Proven and documented. Multiple major cities spent tens of millions of their taxpayer money along with tens of millions of federal grant money to try and they failed. All wasted money. Again, this isn’t speculation – this is fact. My question to any chief officer or sheriff is this: Are you willing to take tens of millions of dollars to build a network that may or may not work when you could use that money for staff to provide direct response to your communities? Are you willing to take the heat from your city councils or your constituents that this service could have come at a lower price from FirstNet? Local builds are just that, they are local and leave behind the vast majority of first responders across the country. The only way to get nationwide coverage and usage is with our only Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, FirstNet.

My final thought is to repeat one thing I have said. CERCI has misstated the PSSA’s position. The PSSA’s top priority is to protect the incumbents.


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