Public-safety groups scrambled to salvage support for a shared public/private national wireless broadband network, following calls by some House Republicans to abandon in the 700 MHz D-Block re-auction, reports RCR Wireless News.
“APCO International believes a public-private partnership between the D Block and public safety is currently the most viable option for funding and deployment of a national interoperable broadband network for public safety,” said Willis Carter, president of the Association of Public-Safety Officials International. “The FCC should move with all deliberative speed while ensuring that public-safety needs are addressed.”
No bidder put up the $1.3 billion minimum for the D Block in the recently completed 700 MHz auction.
Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking minority member of the House Commerce Committee, Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have serious reservations about the public-private framework. Stearns would like to re-auction the D Block without any conditions, selling the spectrum to commercial providers and giving the proceeds to public safety to build their own nationwide system, presumably along the lines of the Integrated Wireless Network (IWS), using narrow band, push-to-talk Project 25 radios and dedicated spectrum.
Harlin McEwen, chairman and CEO of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust Corporation, said he doubted a straight forward D-Block auction could raise enough money. He estimated it would cost at least $6 billion. The PSST is the FCC-approved 700 MHz public-safety broadband licensee.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Michael Copps voiced continued support for the public-private approach, subject to rule changes geared to attracting a private-sector entity willing partner with public safety.
In a separate but related issue, House Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) grilled Cyren Call Communications Corp. Chairman Morgan O’Brien about his company’s relationship with the PSST and pre-auction talks with prospective bidders. Cyren Call is the official advisor to the PSST. Cyren Call, funded by several venture capital firms, has made at least one loan to the PSST.
Dingell requested documents related to financial arrangements between Cyren Call and PSST.
The FCC and Congress are investigating allegations surrounding the D-Block failure, including the abrupt collapse of Frontline Wireless — a one-time, leading D-Block candidate — shortly before the Jan. 24 start of the auction. The FCC’s Martin said he will await the results of the agency’s inspector general’s probe before initiating a new rulemaking on the D Block.
Martin told lawmakers all options are on the table.
The Integrated Wireless Network (IWN), was proposed seven years ago to provide interoperable, mobile data and voice communications to DOJ, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Treasury Department.
But according to an audit by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general, it is “at a high risk of failure.” Industry observers say the federal radio network would cost $5 billion to $30 billion to build —- money that has not been appropriated by Congress.
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