Public Safety, Industry Representatives Clash On Reallocation Of D Block

Broadband Calendar, National Broadband Plan, Spectrum November 18th, 2010

, BroadbandBreakfast.com

By Paul Kirby, TR Daily

*Reprinted by Permission of TRDaily

Public safety leaders and industry lobbyists clashed today during a Washington breakfast on whether the 700 megahertz band D block should be reallocated to public safety or reauctioned.

During the sometimes-testy Broadband Breakfast Club event, the speakers disagreed on whether public safety agencies need control over additional spectrum, with the industry representatives pointing to narrowband channels currently licensed to public safety and the public safety officials stressing the need for that spectrum for narrowband voice operations for years to come.

Steve Berry, president and chief executive officer of the Rural Cellular Association, and Larry Krevor, vice president-legal & government affairs/spectrum for Sprint Nextel Corp., suggested that the 12 MHz of 700 MHz band public safety narrowband spectrum could be transitioned for broadband use over time.

“I’m really tired that we’re sitting here focusing on a 10-MHz [D-block] section when we know that public safety already owns more spectrum in the 700 MHz arena than any carrier in this room,” Mr. Berry said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied Harlin McEwen, chairman of the Communications and Technology Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and chairman of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). He said the 12 MHz licensed to public safety for narrowband operations “will be necessary for years and years and years to come. … There isn’t a product or a standard that would replace that spectrum” and allow agencies to use narrowband channels for broadband applications as well as voice offerings.

Mr. Krevor noted that public safety agencies have narrowband operations in several other bands, which he said could be accessed through multimode devices, freeing up 700 MHz band narrowband spectrum for broadband use.

But Charles Dowd, deputy chief of the New York Police Department, said the use of multiple bands would result in a variety of coverage characteristics depending on the band, confusing first responders.

Mr. Dowd said he believes D-block reallocation proponents are “probably even better” off in the next Congress, with Republicans in control of the House. He said Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), who is to become chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is expected to reintroduce legislation in January that would direct the FCC to reallocate the D block, and, unlike a pending bill (HR 5081), include a component for funding a nationwide public safety broadband network.

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D., W.Va.) is also expected to reintroduce a measure that would reallocate the D block and provide for a funding stream, as is Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I., Conn.).

Mr. Dowd said that 25 House Republicans have endorsed HR 5081, although he acknowledged the need to convince Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to support reallocation. Several lawmakers who want to lead that panel have expressed support for reauctioning the spectrum.

Some critics of reallocation cite the loss of auction revenues from that path, but Mr. Dowd said it would be “fiscally irresponsible not to reallocate the D block to public safety. … What’s more responsible? Getting $3 billion up front or saving billions and billions of dollars in expense to the public to pay for us to use the spectrum that they already own.”

Messrs. Dowd and McEwen said public safety agencies have made the case that the current 10 MHz licensed to the PSST won’t be enough to meet their broadband needs, and they said they can’t rely on priority roaming, as recommended in the national broadband plan (NBP). Mr. McEwen said public safety agencies will have the same demand for mobile data as customers of commercial carriers.

But Messrs. Berry and Krevor stressed the need for funding, governance, and interoperability standards for public safety, rather than more spectrum. They also said that public safety agencies could get broadband services more cheaply by relying on public-private partnerships that leverage commercial deployments. “The most robust, capable communications networks in this country have been built by commercial carriers,” Mr. Krevor said, adding that it doesn’t make “fiscal sense” to duplicate the 4G deployments of those carriers. Mr. Berry also repeatedly stressed the need to mandate interoperability across paired 700 MHz band spectrum.

“We’re not opposed to public-private partnerships,” replied Chief Dowd. “We just need to be in control of our network and have a certainty of a level of service and availability of spectrum.”

He added that there is a “complete lack of understanding of how public safety networks work,” including among FCC officials who drafted the NBP, which recommended reauction of the D block, priority roaming for public safety agencies on commercial networks, and $12 billion to $16 billion in public funding to construct a network.

“We talk about experts at the FCC. Not one of those experts had a day’s … work operating or maintaining a public safety network, which is a completely different network than a commercial network,” Mr. Dowd said. “So to call them experts, from our perspective, … is like saying I know how to do brain surgery.”

Asked to predict action on the D block and funding issues in the new congress, Mr. Dowd said he has a “high level of optimism” that reallocation legislation that has a funding component will pass.

“I think it’s very hard to predict,” Mr. Krevor said. “I think this issue has been battled to a draw in this calendar yet, and next year it’s hard to tell.” He said budget and deficit issues are likely to be key in the new congress, suggesting that lawmakers will ask stakeholders to reach a compromise on a way forward.

Mr. McEwen said he is hopeful Congress will pass legislation favored by public safety. And, he warned, “Don’t think we’re going away. We’re going to fight this to the end, and we’re going to try to get this done, and so be ready for the battle.”

Mr. Berry said the outcome of the issue is “too close to call.” He echoed Mr. Krevor’s statement about the budget pressures Congress will face, adding, “I think this whole thing gets a new, fresh look and fresh review.”

The event is available on BroadbandBreakfast.com at the following link.

- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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