On July 31, the FCC adopted a major decision that will set the stage for the deployment of a nationwide broadband public safety network in the 700-MHz band. The order is the culmination of months of controversy and intense policy discussion in D.C. The decision includes elements of the Cyren Call proposal and the more recent Frontline proposal, but with important changes. Indeed, it appears at press time that the FCC addressed most of the concerns posed by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International.
The decision has several components. First, it designates half of the 700-MHz-band spectrum already allocated for public safety more specifically for public safety broadband. This spectrum had been allotted for public safety wideband data and reserve channels, but had not yet been licensed.
Second, the FCC modified the 700-MHz-band plan to consolidate current public safety narrowband channel blocks, which allows for elimination of an unnecessary guard band and moves the new public safety broadband spectrum to channels adjacent to a new commercial D Block. As noted below, the licensee of that D Block will be obligated to construct a broadband network that spans both the D Block and the public safety broadband channels.
The consolidation of narrowband channel blocks will require modifications to the small number of 700-MHz narrowband systems already deployed. However, the FCC order provides a mechanism for the D Block licensee to pay those expenses. The FCC also shifted the entire public safety allocation down 1 MHz, which allows the narrowband consolidation to occur without a negative impact on systems near Canada, where TV broadcast operations will remain in some portions of the 700-MHz band.
Third, the FCC states it will grant a single, nationwide license for the public safety broadband channels (it does not alter state/local licensing of narrowband channels). This is obviously a major departure from traditional state/local licensing, but it's necessary if there is to be a nationwide interoperable network, especially if the network will be built through a public/private partnership. The Commission did allow for a waiver process to permit continued local data system deployment under certain conditions, although the details of that process were unknown at press time.
Fourth, as noted above, the FCC adopted special conditions for the winner of the 10 MHz of adjacent commercial spectrum in the D Block. The auction winner, prior to receiving its license, must negotiate a network-sharing agreement with the national public safety licensee regarding the nationwide build-out of the network, and the terms and condition of its operation. The FCC s order also adopts specific requirements for the network, including an ultimate obligation to provide coverage for 93.3 percent of the nation s population. The FCC will resolve disputes between the D block auction winner and the national public safety licensee, and will not grant the D block license until it approves the network-sharing agreement.
Fifth, public safety users of the network will have unconditional priority use of at least the 12 MHz of capacity represented by the public safety broadband allocation, plus emergency access to the entire network when needed. The D Block licensee will have secondary, unconditionally preemptible access to the public safety spectrum when it s not being used by public safety. The next-generation broadband technology of the network should allow for that priority to operate seamlessly.
In anticipation of this decision, APCO joined with other public safety organizations to form a new nonprofit corporation, the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, that intends to apply to the FCC to become the national public safety licensee for the new broadband spectrum. Once the network is operational, state and local government agencies will be able to access the network through the national licensee.
This article was excerpted from Public Safety Communications magazine.
Robert Gurss is the director of legal and government affairs for APCO International. He is also an attorney with the telecommunications law firm Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC, through which he represents state and local governments and other clients. Contact him at 202/833-3800, [email protected] or [email protected].