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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

700 MHz Public Safety/Private Partnership - FCC Votes to Implement Marcus "Interruptible Spectrum" Proposal

Yesterday's Commission meeting got lots of press coverage in the national media. Almost all of it focusing on Google's request open access to part of the 700 MHz band. This post deals with another issue that got less press coverage.

Here are some key quotes from the FCC Press Release:

Today's Order establishes a framework for a 700 MHz Public Safety/Private Partnership between the licensee for one of the commercial spectrum blocks and the licensee for the public safety broadband spectrum. As part of the Partnership, the commercial licensee will build out a nationwide, interoperable broadband network for the use of public safety. This network will facilitate effective communications among first responders not just in emergencies, but as part of cooperative communications plans that will enable first responders from different disciplines, such as police and fire departments, and jurisdictions to work together in emergency preparedness and response. Under the Partnership, the Public Safety Broadband Licensee will have priority access to the commercial spectrum in times of emergency, and the commercial licensee will have preemptible, secondary access to the public safety broadband spectrum. Many national and local public safety organizations have expressed support for a public safety/private partnership approach. Providing for shared infrastructure will help achieve significant cost efficiencies while maximizing public safety's access to interoperable broadband spectrum.

Public Safety/Private Partnership

• The Upper D Block commercial licensee and the Public Safety Broadband Licensee will form a Public Safety/Private Partnership to develop a shared, nationwide interoperable network for both commercial and public safety users.

The terms of the Partnership will be governed both by FCC rules and by the details of the Network Sharing Agreement (NSA) to be negotiated by the Upper D Block commercial licensee and the Public Safety Broadband Licensee. The NSA is subject to FCC approval, and must contain certain provisions such as service fees and a detailed build-out schedule for the network.

Chairman Martin issued the following
on this issue,
While I also would have supported a network exclusively for the use of public
safety, the simple reality is that there currently is no way to fund such an enterprise. The use of a public safety-private partnership, however, creates an opportunity to provide state-of-the-art technologies to our Nation’s first responders in a timely and affordable manner. Many national and local public safety organizations have expressed support for a public-private partnership approach as their last, best chance to make this network a reality. We cannot afford to let the opportunity that the 700 MHz band offers for public safety pass us by.

The adoption of a National Public Safety Broadband Licensee to be a part of this partnership is also the best way to establish a truly interoperable network. The local licensing regime that has been used to date has resulted in a patchwork of networks that do not talk to each other. We cannot keep licensing public safety spectrum in the same manner as before and expect a different result. A National Public Safety Broadband Licensee will facilitate a unified national approach to the use of this spectrum, finally enabling all public safety users to talk to each other during a crisis. I therefore wholly support the public safety-private partnership adopted in today’s order.
The diagram at the top of this post comes from a 2003 internal FCC paper I wrote as part of the Spectrum Policy Task Force (SPTF) deliberations. (I have now posted this paper on my website.) The diagram below comes from the FCC band plan that has been released. There are certain similarities and it is pleasing to see that the concept has been adopted.

In view of the implicit and unannounced abolition of the SPTF, the Commission probably doesn't want to be reminded that this was actually SPTF Recommendation #27:

27. Address additional public safety needs through alternative “safety valve” mechanisms
to make spectrum is available to public safety in emergency situations when more
capacity is needed.

a. Because some public safety spectrum use is characterized by intermittent
“spikes,” public safety users should have flexibility to lease spectrum capacity
that is available during lower-use periods to commercial users with a “take-back”
mechanism when public safety use increases.

b. For major regional or national emergencies, additional public safety spectrum
needs should be addressed through enhanced easement rights to non-public safety

The SPTF paper referenced above dealt with both non-Federal Government public safety spectrum, e.g. state and local police and fire users, and Federal Government spectrum regulated by NTIA pursuant to 47 USC 305 that has the same high peak, low average utilization as state and local public safety. NTIA staff has a "temper tantrum" on this issue and threatened to have the head of NTIA complain to the FCC Chairman if the SPTF report even mentioned the possibility that NTIA-regulated spectrum might be shared in such a mode with civil users. Hopefully, now that FCC has taken this bold action, NTIA will at least tolerate public discussion of the topic with respect to the spectrum they control. Chairman Martin's above insightful comments really apply to all spectrum used for public safety purposes.

My paper for the 2005 IEEE DySPAN conference also explores the same issue and has been publicly available for a while. I would be glad to help parties preparing for the 700 MHz auction understand the options and opportunities that result from the FCC's bold action yesterday.

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