I’ve been behind in watching the news south of the border and missed a significant decision last month.

On Feb. 24, President Barak Obama signed legislation that approves the setting aside of the so-called D-block of 700 Mhz spectrum for a national public safety wireless network. As I wrote last fall, Canadian police, fire and other first responders have been urging Ottawa to do the same up here so agencies on both sides of the border will be able to communicate with each other more easily. They have been waiting for the Americans to act.

Meanwhile, with the Conservative government still wrestling over the rules for the upcoming 700 Mhz auction, Ottawa didn’t want to move ahead of the U.S.

In the two weeks since the U.S. decision Industry Canada has been silent.

In an interview Wednesday, Supt. Pascal Rodier of the B.C. Ambulance Service, a co-chair of the Tri-Services committee, which has been leading the lobbying by emergency responders, expressed the hope that Industry Canada will now confirm the government will protect some spectrum in the 700 MHz band for public safety uses.

“We’re sitting here with baited breath hoping for the right decision,” he said.

As telecom consultant Mark Goldberg wrote last week, last August Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the government will reserve spectrum, although he didn’t say how much.

The Tri-Services committee is hoping it will be 20 MHz across the country, although only 10 MHz was set aside in the U.S.

Unlike the Americans, who will build a single emergency network, the Canadians want a network of local or regional wireless systems that will talk to each other. Exactly how the Canadian system will be run isn’t clear. Emergency responders will let wireless carriers here build the networks, but they want control over who can use it.

While we’re waiting for Ottawa, Rodier said one side benefit of the U.S. move is that Canadian wireless carriers are more open to talking to the Tri-Services Committee about details like that. For the past three years, with one exception their doors have been closed, he said.

On the other hand, the door to Industry Minister Christian Paradis’ office has suddenly been sealed to all wireless lobbyists. Rodier said his group wanted to meet with the minister right after Obama inked his name to the legislation to no avail. “We’ve been told they’re not meeting anyone right now,” he said, because an auction rules decision is pending.

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