D-Block: It’s Done; Congress Pays

The FCC today recommended a plan for a public/private partnership public-safety network, though the partnership is different than the one the FCC pursued in the failed 700 MHz D Block auction two years ago, notes Urgent Communications.

Two years ago, a segment of the 700 MHz frequency band, the “D Block”, failed to attain the $1.3 billion minimum price. The original plan was to combine 10 MHz of public service radio frequencies and 12 Mhz of commercial cellular service into a new joint public/private partnership, available to both parties. But the requirements of 24/7, ubiquitous radio coverage turned out to be too onerous for potential bidders.

Bids fell short of the FCC’s $1.3 billion minimum price. That auction was “doomed to fail” because it placed huge financial risks on bidders, a Verizon Wireless executive told Congress.

The new national broadband plan will recommend that Congress allocate between $12 billion and $16 billion over 10 years for a grant program that would allow public safety to build out. Like the old plan, it will combine 10 MHz of spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) in concert with commercial carriers’ LTE deployments.

The plan calls for the D Block winner and other commercial carriers operating in the 700 MHz band — most notably, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility, which dominated the 700 MHz auction conducted two years ago — to deploy LTE networks and provide roaming and priority access to public-safety users.

By deciding what to do with the D-Block, the FCC can move forward with building a nationwide wireless communications system for police, ambulances and firefighters, as well as U.S. and state agencies who deal with disasters and emergencies, says Reuters.

“Rather than solely focusing on just the D Block … public safety isn’t limited to 10 or even 20 MHz of spectrum, but could have access to as much as 80 MHz under these arrangements,” Genachowski said.

Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, said the plan is to also allow public safety workers access to the entire 700 megahertz band when necessary (pdf):


If public safety has the ability to roam and obtain priority access on commercial networks, it can roam on commercial networks in areas where public safety’s own network facilities have not yet been built or are otherwise unavailable. And priority access provides a means for public safety to use additional spectrum capacity in addition to its own dedicated spectrum.

This could be critical in times of emergency, when public safety entities may want to shift non-emergency traffic to other networks in order to reserve their own network and dedicated spectrum for mission-critical communications.

“The private sector simply is not going to build a nationwide, state-of-the-art, interoperable broadband network for public safety on its own dime,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at a briefing with reporters.

It could also save Oregon taxpayers some $414 million building an already “obsolete”, non-broadband, non-LTE compatible radio network, dedicated only to first responders. Currently Oregon plans on spending more than $400 million of taxpayer money to build a state-wide, 700 MHz radio network for first responders.

Oregon’s Wireless Interoperability Network (above) expected State Government to pay $500M to build their network and the Feds to buy them P-25 radios (with essentially no map, photo or data capabilities).

The Oregon Legislature, in the just-completed Special Session, approved two measures supporting the (OWIN) project. “OWIN has $8 million of operating money and with the acquisition of a QA contractor on the horizon, OWIN will soon have the construction and radio funds scheduled for expenditure,” said OWIN Director Lindsay Ball. Cameron Smith, of Governor Ted Kulongoski’s office, told the OWIN Project Steering Committee, “This agreement was very collaborative in nature. It comes from a commitment to keep the OWIN project going.” OWIN’s List Serve has more.

APCO wants the “D Block” to use LTE, but wants the federal government to give them the frequencies. APCO wants the “D Block” removed from the auction. Police chiefs, sheriffs, and fire chiefs pitched their reasoning to reporters this January (C-Span video). First responders say they need all the spectrum they can get — and they need to build their own dedicated, nationwide network to deliver it.

The FCC, in contrast, wants to auction of the D Block spectrum. The FCC’s plan would enable public-safety roaming across all 700 MHz cellular services. The FCC recommended between $12 billion and $16 billion be authorized in federal funding to pay for this (joint) public/private first-responder broadband wireless network. LTE infrastructure comes from cellular providers. Like consumers, first responders get broadband access when they need it, and they get funding for their dedicated radio network.

Wireless Priority Service (WPS) delivers priority calling on cellular networks using an access code. Emergency calls gets priority access on congested cell towers.

The FCC wants a shared public/private partnership, using WPS as the mechanism to enable broadband for first responders. That approach would bring broadband to more citizens across the United States and lower costs for everyone.

Many other states, such as New York, had a similar dilemma in providing public service communications state-wide. New York eventually killed their $2B state-wide public service network.

U.S. public safety agencies support LTE technology for a proposed nationwide public safety network on the 700 MHz radio band. Washington, D.C. will test the 700 MHz broadband network licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) this summer, if vendors have equipment ready by then.

“To achieve the goal of national interoperability, we need to deploy a single technology everywhere, and public safety has identified Long Term Evolution (LTE) as that technology,” said Bryan Sivak, the District’s chief technology officer.

Public safety workers have already been allocated one-eighth of the 700 megahertz band of the spectrum. That portion could be developed under a public-private partnership. The LTE spectrum would add priority access (as needed for public safety users) with cellular broadband as well as programmable push-to-talk call groups.

Genachowski said the plan includes creating an Emergency Response Interoperability Center at the FCC to establish better communications among the array of emergency workers, including hospitals.

Plans to auction the airwaves and establish an emergency network will be part of recommendations to be made in the National Broadband Plan the FCC will release next month.

The plan will also propose reallocating spectrum, including some held by broadcasters, to wireless companies anticipating a shortage, as more Americans surf the Internet on their mobile devices.

The aim of the national blueprint, which is expected to make short- and long-term recommendations, is to help all Americans get access to broadband and establish very fast Internet speeds in most American households by 2020.

Related 700 MHz articles on Dailywireless include; Battle for Oregon’s State-wide Radio Net, Oregon’s $500 Million Statewide Wireless Network, Cascadia Peril, Commentary: Future of Public Safety Communications, New York Cancels Statewide Wireless Network, New York’s $2B Statewide Network Close to Canceling, M/A-COM to NY: We’re Good, NY Gives Tyco 45 days to Fix Network, NY State’s Public Service Net: Failure?, NY State’s Wireless Net Broken?, New York State’s $1B Wireless Net, FCC: What’s Wrong with 700MHz Public Service?, Senate Testimony on 700MHz Sharing, Public Safety: We Like 700MHz Public/Private Plan, Hearings on 700MHz Auction, TerreStar Roams with AT&T, Skyterra/MSV Get $500M, MSS: Battle Space, Verizon: LTE in 25 to 30 Markets By 2010,Sustainable Free Wi-Fi, Battle of the Bands Goes to Congress, Hearings on 700MHz Auction, AT&T/TerreStar: Dual-mode Satphone, APCO Celebrates 75th Annual Conference, 700MHz: Money Talks, Reed Hundt Talks, FCC Finalizes Rules on 700MHz: Limited Open Access, No Wholesale Requirement, Frontline: Out of Business, Google’s 700 MHz Plans, AT&T “Open” to 700MHz — Not, AWS Auction: It’s Done!, RUS Funding for 700 MHz, Rural Broadband Gets A Plan, Cyren Call Proposes Joint Commecial/Muni for 700Mhz, 700 MHz Scenarios, AT&T Buys 700MHz from Aloha, Google Android hits G-Spot, Google’s 700 MHz Plans, Cyren Call to Manage Public Safety Spectrum, Android Developer Challenge — $10M, Oregon’s $500 Million Statewide Wireless Network, General Dynamics Wins IWN Contract, Joint Commecial/Muni Proposed for 700Mhz, Small Ops Squeezed Out of 700MHz?, The Smartest Guy in the Room, 700 Mhz Worth $28B, The 700 Mhz Club.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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