March 2, 2007 10:00 AM PST
Public safety bids stir spectrum spat
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These groups claim that additional spectrum would help public safety agencies deploy broadband communications systems that would fix problems experienced on September 11, 2001, when radio interoperability problems plagued emergency workers.
While these groups have advocated for more spectrum, they've stopped short of endorsing any one company's proposal to provide emergency-network services.
Cyren Call, the company started by Morgan O'Brien, wants to create a broadband trust that would raise roughly $5 billion from private investors to pay for the 30MHz of spectrum that he wants the government to set aside. And instead of Congress or local governments footing the bill to turn this spectrum into a network, Cyren Call proposes that private investors would pay the cost of deploying the equipment to build the networks.
But critics say the spectrum auctions would likely raise billions of dollars more than what the Cyren Call plan offers to pay. And they add that it may be difficult to find investors willing to foot the bill or such a network.
The Frontline proposal differs from Cyren Call's proposal because it is not asking for a spectrum grant. Instead, Frontline is willing to bid on the spectrum at auction, but it wants the FCC to set aside a sliver of the spectrum and mandate that whoever buys this piece of spectrum--whether it's Frontline or some other entity--be required to give public safety a priority should there be an emergency. The company also plans to deliver a wholesale service to mobile operators and other companies that want to sell wireless broadband services.
"Carriers already voluntarily provide priority for public safety in an emergency," said Janice Obuchowski, chairman of Frontline Wireless. "But we are suggesting that we make this more official. Make it a condition of the license."
But some critics say that allocating additional spectrum is unnecessary. The government has already set aside some spectrum in other bands for public safety. And with the 24MHz of spectrum allocated from the 700MHz band, public safety officials have roughly 47MHz of spectrum, said CTIA's Farren. He believes that is more than enough spectrum to serve the entire public safety community.
"Some of our members are able to serve 15 million subscribers with 47MHz of spectrum," he said. "At the most there are probably 10 to 12 million public users and first responders in the whole U.S."
Research analyst Entner agrees that first responders have enough spectrum already.
"We'd have to declare a police state to need all that spectrum," he said. "What they need to do is build next-generation networks that use the spectrum more efficiently. And that's not a spectrum issue, but a technology one."
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