Council argues agencies should have final spectrum say

Public safety agencies should have the final word on whether to accept or reject a proposed sharing of a block of radio spectrum expected to be auctioned for use as a national broadband network for public safety, according to a council of public safety communications advocates.

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, a federation of 14 groups involved in emergency response communications, released its comments in a letter addressed to the Federal Communication Commission. It summarized those comments in a position paper posted on its Web site.

The council's letter is in response to the FCC's request for comments related to the upcoming auction of radio spectrum in the 700 Mhz band. Under rules set by Congress, a block of the spectrum will be designated for public safety communications. The FCC also has suggested setting aside an additional block of spectrum for broadband public safety communications under a national license.

Frontline Wireless LLC of Greensboro, N.C., is circulating its proposal to allow auction of a so-called E Block of spectrum, which would be made available for public safety use, with the caveat that some of the spectrum would be allowed for commercial use when it was not needed for emergencies. Under Frontline's proposal, the winner of the E Block would negotiate with the public safety community to structure a partnership enabling such sharing.

The NPSTC, in its comments, said it supports auctioning off an E Block and awarding a national license to a public safety board. Public safety agencies don't have funds to build or operate a network, so it is essential that they form partnerships with the E Block auction winner, the NPSTC said.

But the NPSTC recognized that it wouldn't be acceptable for public safety authorities to lose access to the spectrum if they can't reach an agreement with the E Block winner. The group proposed that in such cases, the FCC should propose a solution. If the public safety organization agrees, the E Block winner will be bound by it. If the agency doesn't accept the FCC proposal, the E Block spectrum should be auctioned again, the NPSTC recommended.

In addition, the public safety council said it does not recommend so-called "open access" requirements for the spectrum to be sold at auction. Several consumer groups and commercial firms have advised that the available spectrum be made available to a wide variety of providers and devices rather than being structured in a way similar to cellular telephone networks.

"NPSTC does not believe 'open access' should be a requirement for the E Block, partly due to the absence of a commonly agreed definition of what open access means," the council wrote.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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