Public Safety: Show Us The Money

Posted by Sam Churchill on

A coalition of public-safety groups has ratcheted up its lobbying efforts to grab the D Block of the 700 MHz band from the public, reports Fierce Wireless. The Public Safety Alliance is supported by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), and also includes the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

The coalition is opening up a $500,000 advertising campaign aimed at persuading Congress to give them the frequencies. The Public Safety Alliance relies on funding from corporate sponsors including Verizon and AT&T, a spokeswoman told the Washington Post.

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, has introduced legislation to stop the FCC plan (pdf). King has 20 co-sponsors and is seeking a way to bring companion legislation to the Senate.

The FCC’s plan — supported by the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission — will ensure the build-out of a network that is cutting edge, reliable, and cost-effective,” FCC spokesman Rob Kenny said. It would auction off the 10 MHz “D Block”, but allow public service agencies to use the commercial frequencies.

AT&T already owns large swaths of 700 MHz in Blocks “A” and “B”, while Verizon owns most of the 22MHz in Block “C”, nation-wide. Public service agencies currently have 12 Mhz of dedicated frequencies in the 700 Mhz band. The FCC plan would allow first responders to roam amongst all those frequencies.

Public safety has been given additional spectrum since 9/11, including a 12MHz chunk on the 700 Mhz band, 10 Mhz at 800 MHz (from Nextel), 50 MHz from 4.94 – 4.99 MHz and 75 MHz from 5.850-5.925 MHZ.

In a letter (pdf) to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Bush-era Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge used Katrina as an example of the need. Ridge, however, did not mention that Lousiana’s public service radio system was destroyed in the hurricane. It took a year to rebuild.

New York state officials considered Hurricane Katrina while planning its Statewide Wireless Network (SWN) — and canceled it.

The big lesson learned in Katrina was survivability of the network,” says Jerry Powlen, vice president for integrated communications systems at Raytheon, which sells radio systems to law enforcement agencies. “Everything got blown over, including cell towers. There was no gas to run generators. . . . There weren’t enough batteries, and radios couldn’t be recharged.”

The FCC says that near 100% coverage across the United States is only economically feasible if the frequencies are also available to the public. The FCC has argued that the $6.5 billion cost of building the network could balloon to more than $16 billion without a commercial partner.

Another part of the FCC’s goal is to enhance broadband penetration while bringing down the price of public safety radios, from an average of $5,000 to prices more like those for high-end smartphones.

Motorola, which has an 80 percent share of the public safety device market, doesn’t want competitors. Neither does AT&T nor Verizon. Cost is not a big concern for public safety users — they’re funded by taxpayers.

The FCC’s plan would provide near 100% broadband penetration across the United States. In an emergency, public service providers could use those frequencies.

Money talks.

Oregon’s $600 million public safety network (OWIN) is one example, despite the fact that Oregon State agencies must find $577 million in savings over the next 12 months to stave off a projected budget shortfall. The Oregonian wrote:

“The state of Oregon’s plan to build a sprawling emergency radio network is a year behind schedule, and state officials now say they can’t be sure what the project — estimated at $485 million — will actually cost taxpayers.”

Everyone looses except Motorola. The reputation of public service professionals will suffer.

About 3.5 years ago I wrote:

A Project 25 radio isn’t going to cut it.

It will make taxpayer funded projects (like Oregon’s OWIN), look foolish. It’s guaranteed to happen. The 700MHz auctions this fall will provide redundant public service/commercial service.

I have no economic interest in any of this (and no special expertise). Dual-use of facilities just makes sense to me. Ask your 700MHz Interoperability Spectrum Administrator what they’re doing for you.

Not much has changed.

The Public Safety Alliance will loose. Damage to the reputation of first responders who bought into this spectrum grab may follow, since they have little to gain by “winning”.

– Sam Churchill

Related Dailywireless articles include; Big Bucks for 700 MHz Public Safety, FCC: Stop Complaining about Interoperability, Police & Fire: No Broadband for You, The 700MHz Network: Who Pays?, The National Broadband Plan, National Broadband Plan Previewed, D-Block: It’s Done; Congress Pays, AT&T/TerreStar Ready Satphone Service, TerreStar Phones Home, Motorola + SkyTerra Team for 700 MHz/Sat Radios, Alvarion, Open Range To Build 17 State Net, San Diego State: Wildfire GIS to Go, Emergency Mapping, 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, Battle for Oregon’s State-wide Radio Net, Oregon’s $500 Million Statewide Wireless Network.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 at 11:19 am .

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