The last thing public safety needs is bad publicity right now, especially when they’re trying to get 700 MHz D Block spectrum exclusively for themselves. But bad publicity is exactly what they got.
Infighting and disagreements are threatening the $12 billion plan to the acquire the coveted D Block to public safety, and build a nationwide broadband network that does not share the 10 Mhz of D Block with commercial cellular carriers.
As part of the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications System (pdf) plan, the system will serve multiple agencies across the greater bay area, including San Francisco, Alameda County/Oakland, Contra Costa County, as well as the cities of Santa Clara and Sunnyvale.
But Urgent Communications reports that San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed questioned the lease agreement for a 10-site pilot deployment for BayWEB, part of the larger LTE project. Reed said he and his staff have been unable to find any indication that the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area Region” — even exists.
Even if the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area Region” exists, Reed said the city of San Jose has not transferred its FCC waiver rights to use the 700 MHz spectrum to another jurisdiction. “It’s kind of amazing. I don’t know how someone could usurp our rights to the 700 MHz spectrum without our permission or talking to us.”
“Project Cornerstone and the Bay Area BayWEB system will be the first deployment of Long Term Evolution (LTE) Public Safety Broadband in the nation. This is one of the most, if not the greatest, technological advancements in my thirty year law enforcement career,” said Sheriff Gregory J. Ahern, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.
On Sept. 3, the FCC approved the Bay Area lease and 19 other spectrum-lease agreements with the PSST that provided public-safety jurisdictions with the right to use the 700 MHz public-safety broadband spectrum. All of the agreements were subject to a 30-comment period, but no comments or complaints were filed regarding any of the agreements, FCC spokesman Rob Kenny said.
San Francisco Bay Area officials signed a disputed cooperative agreement with Motorola to pursue a $50 million federal grant to deploy a 700 MHz LTE network for public safety, according to a state agency review, but some local officials argue that the deal was signed on behalf of a non-existent entity.
San Francisco Bay–area public-safety agencies entered into an agreement with Motorola to build a 700 MHz LTE system as part of the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications System (BayRICS) plan, the first phase of which is scheduled to be installed this year. Motorola controls something like 80% of the Land Mobile Radio business for government agencies like fire and police.
Meanwhile, Harris Corporation announced it has been awarded a $14 million contract by the State of Vermont to deploy a statewide radio system for public safety first responders and state agencies. The system will connect local, state and federal agencies within the state, and providing interoperability with agencies in neighboring states and Canada.
The Public Safety Spectrum Trust holds the nationwide license for this spectrum. The PSST was selected by the FCC as the Public Safety Broadband Licensee (PSBL) for the 10 MHz of 700 MHz public safety nationwide broadband spectrum. It later designated the Public Safety Spectrum Trust to represent public safety interests in this band and negotiate with the D-Block auction winner for a mutual agreement on band use and public and private access to it.
Public safety users currently use 800 MHz for most voice traffic, and recently were given an additional 10 MHz previously used by Nextel. In the 700 MHz Public Safety Band, they received (free) the equivalent of four television channels (roughly Ch 63 & 64 and Ch 68 &69) in the 700 MHz band. Half those frequencies will be used for narrowband voice, the other half for broadband (LTE).
Now Public Safety has their eyes on a potential cash cow – the “D-Block”.
The FCC says cellular operators have already built a nationwide broadband network. First responders will get priority access to all of it.
The FCC argues that if public service agencies try to build their own independent LTE cellular network (with the D-Block), they won’t get the coverage they need – or the funding. A joint public/private system, by contrast, would benefit everyone with better coverage, improved service, and lower costs.
Nobody doubts that.
But paying for a dedicated 700 MHz statewide network and thousands of interoperable P-25 radios is expensive and ultimately bandwidth limited. First responder access may be restricted due to interagency rivalries.
The FCC argues that 700 MHz commercial cellular operators – including AT&T and Verizon – should work with first responders in building statewide networks, reducing duplication and expense. In exchange, first responders could use their own dedicated 12 Mhz broadband 700 MHz data network – but also use a commercialized “D-Block” – with priority access to virtually any cellular broadband resource.
The FCC and the 911 Commission say sharing broadband infrastructure delivers better service for first responders and citizens.
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