The game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple. – The Wire
Jeffrey Silva in RCR News says that key House Homeland Security Committee members appear to back FCC’s efforts to revise D-Block rules — but the panel’s hearing brought to surface differences among lawmakers, first responders and others over critical issues — especially the licensing approach — a week before telecom regulators vote to put a new auction plan officially into play.
“The public-private partnership is crucial to a successful re-auction of the public-safety spectrum,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). “Congress expects that government, public-safety and commercial entities will cooperate fully to give first responders the additional spectrum that is needed to facilitate emergency communication.”
The D Block pairs 10 megahertz of (unbid) commercial 700 MHz spectrum with 12 megahertz of public-safety spectrum to create a 22 MHz block that will be shared by both the private sector and first responders.
Under Martin’s newly revised plan, which will likely be voted on next Thursday, the reserve price is cut to $750 million from a prior $1.3 billion minimum bid, and the geographic areas could be split up into 58 regions. Additionally, the coverage requirements have been eased.
But fundamental disputes remain over how to fix a public-safety interoperability problem and Martin’s D-Block plan is unlikely to satisfy all parties.
“We must invest in communications systems that have the substantial participation of public safety. That is why the public-private partnership of the D Block would truly reflect how the spectrum can be shared among commercial and public-safety users on a network that meets the needs of the first-responder communities,” stated Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland subcommittee on emergency communications, preparedness and response at the Sept. 16 hearing.
“The bottom line is that we must have the commitment of all the key players to make the public-safety network buildout on the 700 MHz more than just a concept.”
The Martin plan has prompted grumbling about the potential for diluting public-safety’s gold standard for communications, says Silva.
Public safety cannot allow that to happen,” stated Charles Dowd, deputy chief of the New York Police Department. “Weakening of the standards, priority [access] or coverage requirements, will only serve to drive public safety away from the system altogether. Public safety needs to maintain its more stringent requirements which cops and firefighters need and will expect.”
But David Boyd, head of the command, control and interoperability division in the Department of Homeland Security’s science and technology unit, said 700 MHz frequencies should not be viewed as replacement spectrum for public-safety agencies but rather as complementary to first responders’ existing radio channels.
The FCC’s Poarch pointed out many public-safety agencies lack funding to deploy 700 systems.
The hearing also brought into full light fissures in a public-safety community that has strained to present a united front in D-Block advocacy before the FCC and Congress. But the show of unity increasingly appears to have begun to melt away.
The Association of Public Safety Officials supports the public-private partnership approach, although APCO regards as deficiencies with the PSST, the non-profit public safety broadband licensee (PSBL) whose adviser/agent is Cyren Call Communications.
Martin’s plan would forbid the PSST from acting as a mobile virtual network operator, establish a funding mechanism for the PSST as well as impose structural safeguards regarding its relationship with Cyren Call, and put in place price controls to prevent public-safety and commercial licensees from gouging each other.
But several commissioners raised doubts that the changes would entice commercial partners to buy the spectrum, for reasons including too-high prices and lack of clarity for public safety officials. Of the new $750 million price tag, Adelstein said: “I cannot put my vote behind such a high figure arrived at so arbitrarily.”
The current proposal favors a national bidder, which Martin said would ensure the greatest coverage area. The FCC is seeking public comment as part of its rulemaking process. A final vote by commissioners is needed to approve the rule.
In other news, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Thursday said the agency will try to finish its review of the Sprint/Clearwire WiMAX merger before year end.
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