Public Safety Spectrum Scuffle Heats Up

Posted by: Olga Kharif on April 15, 2008

So, who should fund and be allowed to build out a nationwide public safety network in the U.S.? This topic has been the topic of much debate in Congress this week.

As testimonies come in, they are raising a possibilities of drastic changes in relation to block D — a nationwide swath of wireless spectrum public safety agencies hope to use to communicate with one another. The block was put up for sale at a recent wireless auction, but found no takers. So now, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin is looking at revamping rules governing the sale.

Some people in Congress say the government should simply sell block D to the highest bidder, and use the proceeds to finance a public safety network. The winners would be able to use the spectrum however they chose.

For now, Martin doesn’t seem to support that idea, but he doesn’t reject it outright, either. Speaking before House Committee on Energy and Commerce today, Martin said, “While I and some of my colleagues would have preferred for public safety to have their own funding to build a network, the simple reality is that funding remains a significant challenge with respect to public safety interoperability.” For now, he advocates using the spectrum for public safety needs.

Others, meanwhile, are putting the pressure on Congress to prohibit wireless telcos from bidding for the block — revving up speculations that that’s exactly what AT&T and Verizon Wireless plan to do. Until now, most observers assumed that small companies like Cyren Call would undertake the project. But testifying before the House Subcommitte on Telecommunications and the Internet today, Robert Irving, general counsel for small carrier Leap Wireless, said, “The FCC should examine whether breaking the D Block into smaller segments makes better sense and whether AT&T or Verizon Wireless should be allowed to bid on it given the large swaths of 700 MHz spectrum those carriers already have.”

The fate of block D could be decided soon.

Reader Comments

Squeezebox

April 16, 2008 2:12 PM

Maybe we should have auctioned the block D spectrum first and then the TV airwaves? That way, when we got not bidders on block D, we could have required all cell phone auction winners to develop block D as a condition to getting their desired spectrum.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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