Billion-dollar wireless carriers aren’t the only ones anxiously waiting for the Harper government to set policies for the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction
. Public safety agencies including police department and other first responders to emergencies are, too.
Through a group called the Tri-Services Special Purpose Committee, representing national associations of chiefs of police, fire chiefs and emergency medical services, they have urged Industry Canada to set aside 20 Mhz of spectrum in a special part of the 700 MHz band across the country for an exclusive public safety wireless network.
The network would allow them for the first time to share voice, video and data from crime and emergency scenes to speed their ability to save lives and property.
But the plan, also urged in a broad way by Public Safety Canada, a federal ministry, has run into a hitch: A similar proposal in the United States covering what is called there the D-block in the 700 MHz band has yet to be approved by Congress. And synchronizing plans with the Americans is vital. It would make no sense to dedicate frequencies not compatible with U.S. agencies, say supporters of the Canadian plan. Among other reasons, it would make buying handset and network equipment cheaper if both countries used similar frequencies. Nor would it make sense for us to go ahead with our network while if the Americans abandon theirs.
“A lot is riding on the U.S. and what they’ll do,” says Supt. Pascal Rodier of the B.C. Ambulance Service, a co-chair of the Tri-Services committee.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to commit (here) until we know that the Americans are going to do. We were hoping by now they would have made their decision.”
The committee may not have long to wait. Last week as part of a new jobs plan, President Barack Obama proposed setting aside the D-block for the public safety network, setting up an independent agency to run it and giving it US$50 million towards its eventual US$10 billion construction.
According to knowledgeable sources in Washington, the proposal will be dealt with by a special Congressional committee scheduled to report to Congress by Nov. 23 on deficit reduction. Congress has to vote that day on whatever proposals the committee makes.
However, there are members of Congress that oppose giving away valuable spectrum instead of auctioning it. It is also opposed by some public safety agencies there that wouldn’t be included in the network.
It is conceivable that the proposal – which in a similar form was bought to Congress over a year ago and got nowhere -- will get voted down in a country torn between cutting the deficit and spending to ease the recession.