The 700MHz Network: Who Pays?

Posted by Sam Churchill on

“If we don’t get the funding, this network won’t be possible and following 9/11 and Katrina, we need the funding.” — Safecom

The National Broadband Plan seems committed to funding a $12 to $15 billion national 700 MHz public service network. Where would the money come from? Some, probably less than $1B, would be generated by a 700 MHz auction of the 10 MHz, “D Block”, but most may come from a public safety fee on all U.S. broadband users, says Network World. But the fee will likely be less than $1 a month on all U.S. broadband users, reports Computer World, and would be used to support operational costs of the network.

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) agreed on using Long Term Evolution (LTE) as a standard technology in the 700 MHz band. But APCO wanted the feds to give them all the spectrum. In the end, there wasn’t enough money or spectrum to go around.

Instead, public safety users will keep their current 700 MHz radio spectrum, and get another 10 Mhz (using LTE broadband). That cellular network will be shared with the public. First responders get Wireless Priority Access.

The FCC plans to impose a minimal public safety fee on all U.S. broadband users that would be “a fair, sustainable and reasonable funding mechanism,” reads the public service radio section in the FCC’s new broadband plan.

The shared infrastructure cost would reduce the expense of delivering commercial broadband in rural areas. AT&T (with spectrum in the A & B blocks) and Verizon (with spectrum in the C block), each now own close to 20 MHz in the 700MHz band. They would be likely candidates for bidding on the national “D Block” spectrum.

Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, told Reuters that the FCC could issue a notice of inquiry “early summer” and a commercial auction ot the “D Block”, could take place in the first or second quarter of 2011.

Oregon’s State Interoperability Executive Council (SIEC), has voted to prepare a waiver that seeks permission from the FCC to build a public-safety statewide broadband wireless network, reports

“Oregon can create a network that lets public-safety responders send more detailed data at faster speeds over a dedicated statewide network,” said Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Johnson, who chairs the SEIC.

“Oregon didn’t have a base radio system that was modern enough to work for the state’s public-safety agencies”, said Johnson, who also is the current president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Johnson said there are several benefits for the state if it is able to create its own broadband data network in the dedicated 700 MHz spectrum. The move would expedite the introduction of high-speed data capabilities within the coverage area of the Oregon Wireless Interoperability Network (OWIN). The move also would position Oregon for an eventual merger with the proposed nationwide public-safety communications network, says the article.

UPDATE: On May 11, 2010, the FCC adopted an order that permits state and local governmental entities to deploy public safety broadband systems using the 700 MHz spectrum. The FCC’s order allows these entities to enter into leases with the PSST for use and development of public safety broadband networks. Applicants are subject to the provisions of the FCC’s order and any subsequent rules regarding the use of 700 MHz spectrum, including those rules that are designed to ensure compatibility and interoperability of public safety networks.

The National Interoperability Information eXchange (NIIX) is a national web-based resource for interoperability plans generated by the states and regions between states. They’re into Project 25 radios with an aggregated bit rate of 9600 bits/s.

Apparently the lack of satellite phones on the West Coast, like TerreStar’s (right) which can also use cellular networks, is an issue that can wait.

Anyone can do the math. Putting a $700 TerreStar dual mode (cellular/satellite) satphone into the pockets of 1,000 first responders would total $700 thousand — not $700 million.
It WILL be operational WHEN The Big One strikes.

A terrestrial system depends on towers, power & backhaul working. And a budget for thousands of $5,000 P-25 handheld radios.

Citizens, it seems, are not stakeholders. Those decisions are made by state police and government agencies who anticipate hundreds of millions in funding from the feds. Some agencies will not get their funding. It’s a fact of life.

OWIN spokesperson Bill Gallagher said if granted the waiver, the state would be able to entertain public/private partnerships, which may eventually be the key to deploying broadband service for those underserved areas in the state that don’t have it. Currently, deployment of the nationwide network is stalled because of an unsuccessful attempt to auction off some of the spectrum to a private carrier.

The current estimate to build Oregon’s network is $414 million, Johnson said.

It’s unclear what impact (if any), the The National Broadband Plan will have on state-wide 700 MHz networks like Oregon’s. But the FCC is now saying that funds for 700MHz radio networks will likely come out of the federal budget, not State coffers.

Related Dailywireless articles include; The National Broadband Plan, National Broadband Plan Previewed, D-Block: It’s Done; Congress Pays, FCC “Finds” 500MHz?, FCC Floats “100 Squared” Initiative.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 at 1:21 pm .

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