Former FirstNet Board Members Urge Proactive Approach to 4.9 GHz
Thursday, August 27, 2020 | Comments

Two former First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) board members encouraged public safety to take a proactive approach to 4.9 GHz to ensure that public safety does not lose the spectrum, during a keynote address as part of the International Wireless Communications Expo’s (IWCE) Virtual Event.

“The history of public safety is littered with examples of being reactive to disasters as opposed to being proactive,” said Charles Dowd, a former FirstNet Authority board member and retired assistant chief for the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Dowd noted that public safety receiving 4.9 GHz itself was a reaction. Prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, there had been talk about giving 4.9 GHz to public safety, but accelerated quickly following the attacks.

On the opposite side, Dowd offered the efforts that eventually led to the creation of the FirstNet Authority and the creation of a nationwide public-safety broadband network as an example of a proactive effort that has helped first responder more effectively do their job.

Dowd is one of several public-safety officials, including former FirstNet Authority Chair Sue Swenson and Vice Chair Jeff Johnson, who formed the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA) to advocate keeping 4.9 GHz for public safety. The group has urged the FCC to give the spectrum to the FirstNet Authority.

The FCC has opened a proceeding to examine the spectrum, arguing that the spectrum is currently underused. The FCC has proposed potentially finding a model to share the spectrum between public safety and other uses or auctioning off the spectrum.

“Giving up this spectrum today could result in public safety once again falling behind technologically,” Swenson said during the keynote.

She noted that it is unclear if the spectrum is truly underused because the way the spectrum was set up did not support accurate user data collection. Original license requirements in the 4.9 GHz band did not require any form of frequency coordination and was based solely on geographical constructs and not device use. Because of this approach, it is impossible to know how many devices are actually on the spectrum, Swenson said.

Additionally, a filing from the PSSA with the FCC noted that growth in the band was slowed by the slow development of equipment for 4.9 GHz. The PSSA also argued that there is demand for nationwide use in the 4.9 GHz spectrum, but some agencies are not willing to invest there right now given the uncertainty over the band with the FCC’s current examination of it.

The PSSA has advocated giving the spectrum to FirstNet Authority because of its experience in taking the D block spectrum and developing a plan for it that eventually led to the creation of the FirstNet network, now operated by AT&T. The authority would be able to create a plan for the 4.9 GHz that would take into account incumbent needs while also providing spectrum to meet public safety’s increasing demands for broadband and for eventual 5G uses.

The PSSA also launched a petition asking the FCC to allocate the spectrum to FirstNet and is seeking stakeholder support for the petition. The petition can be found here.

Dowd also noted that the PSSA is open to other options for the 4.9 GHz spectrum that doesn’t give it to the FirstNet Authority but still secures it for public-safety use in the future.

“Let’s stay proactive, let’s stay ahead, let’s protect 4.9,” Dowd said.

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