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President Obama called for a National Wireless Initiative to make available high-speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of Americans in his State of the Union address. The President said only 65% of the U.S. population has broadband – compared to 95% for South Korea.

Today the White House laid out plans for the Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative which will free up broadcast spectrum through incentive auctions and create a nationwide, wireless network for public safety (on the taxpayer’s dime).

The President announced the new initiative at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan (transcript), a city where local businesses have benefited from broadband. He also saw a demonstration of how the university’s WiMAX network has enabled distance learning.

Today, this is one of America’s most connected universities, and enrollment is near the highest it’s been in 30 years. And what’s more — and this is what makes this special — you told nearby towns that if they allowed you to retrofit their towers with new equipment to expand your network, then their schools, their first responders, their city governments could use it too. And as a result, police officers can access crime databases in their cars. And firefighters can download blueprints on the way to a burning building. And public works officials can save money by monitoring pumps and equipment remotely.


Portions of the plan will be included in the 2012 budget proposal Obama is set to release Monday.

The Michigan WiMAX network (above) was one of the first university-oriented WiMAX networks. It uses the Granite Island Light Station in Lake Superior as a relay.

Video is linked 40 miles between Marquette and the Big Bay School District, by a WiMAX link that travels from Marquette, then to Granite Island, then across the lake to Big Bay. Power for its relay point comes from solar cells, wind generators and a backup propane-powered generator.

According to Strategy Analytics the US is 20th in household broadband use.

President Obama wants to spend $18 billion in federal funds towards his wireless goals.

  • Fire, police and other emergency responders would get $10.7 billion in federal support for a dedicated public service network.
  • About $5 billion, currently used for rural phone subsidies, would be repurposed to build cell towers and backhaul networks to towns without mobile broadband services.
  • An additional $3 billion would go to research and development for wireless technologies.

DailyTech has analysis of the Administration’s broadband plan. It’s not a bad plan – if the 700 MHz “D-Block” were shared by the public and first responders. Otherwise, providing another 3% of Americans with broadband, by extending penetration from 95% to 98% (9.2 million people), is going to be very costly, according to critics like House Energy and Commerce Chairman, Fred Upton.

Some key points in the plan:

  • A Goal of 98% of Americans with Access to 4G High-Speed Wireless. The President’s Budget supports the 4G buildout in rural areas through a one-time $5 billion investment. This investment, to be managed by the FCC, will help catalyze universal service reform to provide access to higher-speed wireless and wired broadband, dovetail with the need for public safety to have a wireless network available in rural areas, and extend access from the almost 95% of Americans who have 3G wireless services today to at least 98% of all Americans gaining access to state-of-the-art 4G high-speed wireless services within five years.
  • Develop and Deploy A Nationwide, Interoperable Wireless Network For Public Safety. President Obama is calling for an investment of $10.7 billion to ensure that our public safety benefits from these new technologies: $3.2 billion to reallocate the “D Block”; $7 billion to support the deployment of this network; and $500 million from the WIN Fund for R&D and technological development. This investment, in coordination with the investment in rural buildout, will ensure that the rollout of 4G in rural areas serves the needs of public safety and the broader community.
  • A Wireless Innovation (WIN) Fund to Help Drive Innovation. This $3 billion fund will support key technological developments that will enable and take advantage of the 4G rollout and pave the way for new technologies. The WIN Fund will support basic research, experimentation and testbeds, and applied development in a number of areas, including public safety, education, energy, health, transportation, and economic development.

I don’t have the bonafides to argue specifics, but I question how taking the “D-Block” off the market and having taxpayers build a $10 Billion broadband wireless network exclusively for public safety users helps anyone. The bloated procurement process is something only a vendor could love.

Putting LTE on police relays sounds good – but don’t expect 700 MHz to reach mobile users 10-15 miles away. It won’t. General Dynamics doesn’t have a miracle chip.

The San Ramon fire department has developed an app in-house (above). If everyone used it, they might need cellular service.

The New York City Wireless Network (NYCWiN) is a dedicated high-speed, mobile data network for first responders that stretches across 300 square miles and five boroughs. It operates adjacent to NYC’s Clear WiMAX network, but is not interoperable with it.

An FCC study (pdf) indicates that spectrum per user for public safety is now 25 times that of commercial providers. Under the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, “a $6.5 billion investment could provide coverage to 99% of Americans by construction of a public safety “overlay” network on 41,600 existing commercial sites, hardening of commercial towers and the addition of over 3,000 sites in rural areas”.

By contrast, a public-safety-only network deployed on 10MHz of 700MHz spectrum and covering 99.3% of the population, such as the one outlined today by the Obama administration, would require about 19,000 cells and cost about $9.5 billion to deploy and $1.5 billion annually to operate and maintain (pdf), says Jon Peha, who does analysis for the FCC.

The value of the additional 10MHz of spectrum (in a partnership) depends on population density, but the only way rural areas will be covered is by a condition of the spectrum license. It’s a compromise, explains Peha. If public safety agencies are not willing to use a network with lower signal coverage reliability and in-building penetration levels, then 10MHz of public safety spectrum would have been transferred to commercial service without any substantial benefit to public safety. Cost sharing aside.

FCC analysis is based on science. APCO lobbies for money. Everything’s political.

The $27.8 billion raised from auctioning airwaves may not be enough. Infrastructure costs on a dedicated first responder system and the (unmentioned) $5,000 P-25 radios for 1.1 million state and local responders, could push costs past $30B, say some analysts. Where’s the money coming from?

The FCC wants to target USF monies for cost/effective Universal Service in rural areas. It won’t pencil out without shared 700 MHz service. The FCC hopes to get cellcos – not taxpayers – to build the “D-Block” to hardened milspec on their own dime — if they lowered the bidding floor and allowed dual-use.

That’s what the FCC and the 911 Commission have determined. That’s why they developed a different plan from the Administration’s. The FCC’s plan would auction the D-Block and create partnerships with cellcos to deliver broadband to rural areas.

Everyone benefits they argue, including first responders, residents and taxpayers.

The FCC’s plan would require the D Block licensee to provide a network that covers 75% of the U.S. population by the end of the fourth year, 95% of the U.S. population by the end of the seventh year, and 99.3% of the U.S. population by the end of the tenth year.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.) said: “In 2010, the FCC’s national broadband plan found that both our public safety and wireless broadband goals would be better met by auctioning the D Block – a conclusion that garnered bipartisan support in the Energy and Commerce Committee.”

Communications subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) agreed. Today his committee held hearings on waste and fraud in broadband stimulus spending (witness list & GAO Report).

Independent providers like Eagle Communications complained that government-subsidized competitors, over-building lucrative urban areas, put their own non-subsidized operation – which serves rural areas – at risk (pdf).

“It will be important to remember the colloquial definition of ‘insanity’: repeating the same actions and expecting different results,” said Walden.

The U.S. Government hopes to raise $27.8 billion over the next decade by auctioning (our) spectrum. Opening up additional spectrum is a good idea. But corporations and public service agencies need to be held accountable. Some resources should be set aside for public access by future generations. In the spirit of national parks.

Are we in a spectrum crisis? You decide.

  • Clearwire uses only 30 MHz of their 120 MHz. Their 2.6 GHz band is the only internationally recognized “4G” band and yet they can’t seem to find any spectrum buyers (with the possible exception of T-Mobile).
  • AT&T and Verizon bought nationwide AWS spectrum in 2006. They are sitting on it. Unused.
  • Cable operators paid $2.4 billion for AWS spectrum. They are sitting on it. Unused.

Creating artificial scarcity helps no one.

Use it or loose it.

Neither the White House nor the FCC dedicate 50-100 MHz for municipalities. Look at the profound impact that 85 MHz of unlicensed WiFi has had on the economy and productivity of the United States and the world. Why subsidize commercial carriers?

Spectrum is the lifeblood of entrepreneurs. It’s the oxygen of newspapers and magazines. Radio and television broadcasters don’t pay anything for their spectrum, but “wireless cable” could provide real competition (at 20 Mbps). Internet-enabled ads command CPMs 100 times higher than broadcast. Free broadband = mass market. Why do you think Google gives away Android & developers make apps for it?

It’s the ads, stupid.

If 80 MHz were dedicated to municipalities, half might be used for city operations, while the other 40 MHz might enable competitive, “net neutral”, broadband. Selling off all spectrum to the highest bidder seems like bad public policy. It’s counterproductive, requiring government subsidies for universal service.

Related Dailywireless articles include; White House: D-Block to Police/Fire, State of the Spectrum, More T-Mobile Spectrum Rumors, FCC Green Lights Lightsquared, Charlie’s Big Play, Phoney Spectrum Crisis?, Oregon’s $600M Public Safety Network Likely Killed, Oregon’s Public Service Network: $100M Over Budget, Bay Area 700 MHz Net in Altercation , SF Announces LTE First Responder Net, New York Cancels Statewide Wireless Network, M/A-COM to NY: We’re Good, FCC: Interoperability on 700 MHz Band, Riot in D Block, SkyTerra 1 Launched , Why Cops Don’t Just Use Cell Phones, LightSquared + SK Telecom, The 700MHz Network: Who Pays?, Public Safety: Show Us The Money, Clearwire to Test LTE, Apps for the City, Public Safety Spectrum Grab, The National Broadband Plan, e-Publishing: The New Normal

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