Debate on 700 MHz Public Safety Broadband Network Heats Up

Following closely on the heels of the release of a joint bipartison draft by Senate Commerce last week, Sens. McCain and Lieberman have reintroduced the “Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011″ to allocate (rather than auction) the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety for the creation of a nationwide public safety broadband network.  A mark-up of the Senate Commerce draft bill, originally scheduled for May 25, has been postponed until the week of June 6th.

Both bills dictate that public safety retain priority access, a virtual nonstarter for utilities and other critical infrastructure who may be considering a partnership with public safety in the network build-out and operations because their communications could be preempted during emergencies.  While provisions would allow non-public safety entities  to access the spectrum and the network on a fee basis, the requirements for backward compatibiity with 2G and 3G networks and for roaming onto and interoperability with commercial networks also work to effectively preclude utility participation.

UTC continues to stress the benefits of allowing utility involvement: 1) UTC’s communications spending study soon to be released indicates  that utilities will invest more than $3B in 2011 on communications related infrastructure and equipment, monies which could be leveraged to help defray the costs of the PS network; 2) Utilities as network users would expand the potential equipment market, bringing down costs; 3) Utilities would more rapidly build-out coverage to rural areas; and 4) Utility use would mean greater spectrum efficiency.

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