First Responders Meet with Washington Officials
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 | Comments
Motorola's Stu Overby (left) compares notes regarding the day's meeting with Chuck Dowd (right) of the NYPD following a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington.
 
  
WASHINGTON — After a long day of meetings with congressional leaders and staff on Capitol Hill, with top brass at the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and with attorneys at Justice, every leader of every major U.S. public-safety concern agreed that while no actual commitment to finally give the 700 MHz D block of spectrum to public safety was garnered, they were “encouraged by the tone.”
 
“This was a productive day,” said Chuck Dowd, deputy chief of the New York Police Department, who was representing the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA). “No one made any outright commitment, but it was clear they want to help. It was good to show how united fire and police are on this subject. New York is deeply committed to this.”
 
Joining Dowd at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday evening were representatives of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the MCCA, the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs (MFC), the National Sheriffs Association (NSA), the Major County Sheriffs Association (MCSA), the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officers (APCO) International, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), all voicing concern that no nationwide, ubiquitous, broadband public-safety network had been built eight years after Sept. 11 — despite recommendations from the 9/11 Commission.
 
“We are profoundly disappointed that Congress and the administration have not secured this spectrum,” said Robert Davis, president of the MCCA and chief of the San Jose (Calif.) Police Department. “The D block needs to be removed from auction.”
 
“We need to see leadership here in Washington to get this done,” said Chief Russ Laine from Algonquin, Ill., speaking for the IACP. “They need to provide us with the tools to keep our communities at home safe.”
 
As such, association leadership decided to converge on the nation’s capital en masse to take their message — in uniform — to those they deemed most sympathetic. 
 
On Jan. 8, the public-safety groups sent a letter to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, ranking member of that committee; Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce; and Rep. Joe Barton, ranking member of that committee, requesting that “Congress take immediate action to introduce legislation to reallocate an additional 10 megahertz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band (D block) to public safety.” This spectrum would be combined with the 10 megahertz already set aside for public safety. In addition, the first responders requested that any bill introduced by Congress include “an annually recurring and dedicated funding source to build and maintain the nationwide public-safety network.”
 
According to the combined groups, Rep. Waxman appears to be the most sympathetic to new legislation, with MCCA President Davis saying he “senses some leadership there. He’s well aware of the issues, and he gets it. This is not an easy task [to roll out a network], but it’s not an option.”
 
The groups also are depending on the private sector to help lobby for reallocation legislation. AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, Motorola, Harris, Northrop Grumman and Alcatel Lucent all forwarded letters of support for such an initiative. “We support public safety and will work with them,” said Stu Overby, senior director for global spectrum strategy, enterprise mobility solutions for Motorola, and his company’s letter included a six-point plan for the implementation of a nationwide network. Moving forward, public safety’s technology of choice for any nationwide network is Long Term Evolution (LTE), rather than WiMAX, mostly because several U.S. wireless carriers plan to adopt the LTE scheme. “This was politically, not technologically, motivated,” said APCO President Richard Mirgon.
 
The FCC’s auction of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, garnered from analog channels that were returned to the commission when broadcasters went digital last year, ended in March 2008 with no resolution regarding the D block (758 - 763 MHz and 788 - 793 MHz bands), which had been set aside for a public/private partnership to build a nationwide broadband public-safety network. Only one bid was made on that block — $472 million — nowhere near the $1.3 billion reserve price. In an order (AU Docket No. 07-157) adopted March 20, 2008, the FCC elected not to re-offer the D block license as part of Auction 76, deciding instead to ponder further what options could be crafted to help ensure the eventual buildout of a nationwide broadband public-safety network.
 
What the FCC can’t do right now is hand over the spectrum to first responders, because Congress has mandated that all recovered frequencies come with a price tag. The chicken-or-egg situation has Congress waiting to read the FCC’s soon-to-be-released national broadband plan before it considers crafting a D block bill, while the agency’s hands are tied regarding permanent reallocation of the D block to public safety until Congress passes legislation releasing that particular spectrum from any kind of auction.
 
Thus, no timeframe has been targeted for proposed congressional legislation, although draft language for such a bill was distributed. Earlier this week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who met with some of the public-safety leaders, asked Sens. Rockefeller and Hutchison, and Reps. Waxman and Barton for permission to delay for a month the release of the FCC’s national broadband plan, which had been slated for Feb. 17. In a letter, the chairman said his agency needed more time “in the interest of advancing a national broadband plan that reflects the extraordinary importance of the task and that is responsive to the unprecedented record developed during the comment and workshop period.” 
 
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