Government Technology

Larger Cities View FCC 700MHz "D Block" Public Safety Plan as Critically Flawed


October 29, 2008 By

As part of the Digital Communities 700Mhz CIO working group initiative, a "Mayor's Letter" has now been sent to congressional leaders urging that a new approach be adopted for the 700MHz "D Block."

Previously, these 700MHz frequencies were used for over-the-air TV channels 62 and 67. With the digital TV transition (all TV over-the-air broadcasts will switch to digital broadcasting on February 17, 2009), these channels were vacated. The FCC currently plans to sell licenses to use these frequencies in an auction with the caveat that the winner of this so-called "D-block" would be mandated to partner with public safety constituencies to make use of the adjacent public safety broadband spectrum (conveniently located at 763-768 MHz and 793-798 MHz, respectively). Through a "Network Sharing Agreement," the FCC's goal was to create a unified, commercial/public safety network.

However, this plan is now drawing increased opposition from a number of larger cities and counties.

"We believe that the FCC plan to pair the public safety spectrum with the commercially-auctioned "D-Block" of spectrum to create a nationwide network is critically flawed," the Mayor's letter says. "This plan takes a 'one-size-fits-all' approach that does not address the variety of needs and abilities of local governments."

A number of the larger local jurisdictions are urging that the FCC instead provide the public safety spectrum directly to urban areas, so they can create cost effective, "build-own-operate" communications networks that would be resilient and hardened to meet threats and risks associated with urban areas.

The full text of the letter follows:

October 28, 2008

The Honorable John D. Dingell

The Honorable Bennie G. Thompson

Chair, House Energy and Commerce Committee

Chair, House Homeland Security Committee

2125 Rayburn House Office Building

H2 - 176 Ford House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Joe Barton, Ranking Member

The Honorable Peter King, Ranking Member

House Energy and Commerce Committee House Homeland Security Committee

2322A Rayburn House Office Building H2-117 Ford House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Dingell, Chairman Thompson, Ranking Member Barton and Ranking Member King:

We ask for your support in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to set national standards for interoperable communications, while allowing major urban areas to have local control for building, owning, and operating interoperable networks for public safety. The FCC is developing a final process for allocating the 700 MHz spectrum that will be made available by the transition of television broadcast signal from analog to digital format. Successful allocation of this spectrum to public safety for voice and data communications is critical to protecting the public during the next earthquake, hurricane, act of terrorism, or other disaster to occur in our cities.

We believe that the FCC plan to pair the public safety spectrum with the commercially-auctioned "D-Block" of spectrum to create a nationwide network is critically flawed. This plan takes a "one-size-fits-all" approach that does not address the variety of needs and abilities of local governments. Our large urban areas have the resources, infrastructure, and capital to build and operate municipally-controlled public safety networks. In addition, emergency incidents are typically local or regional in nature. Therefore, decisions regarding the first responder network need to be made locally, including: network performance, redundancy, system coverage, data usage, user access, and most importantly system pre-emption.

Following a failed spectrum auction earlier this year, the FCC's plan for a second auction would lower network standards, take too long to deploy (15 years) and ultimately not withstand a catastrophic event. When first responders need it most, the network would be subject to overload and failure, leaving our leaders to ask how this happened. In addition, the proposed costs and the usage fees associated with the FCC's plan are not justifiable for urban areas,


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