Nextel founder wants new wireless public safety network

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should set aside30MHz of radio spectrum scheduled to be auctioned off to commercialusers in 2008 for a new multibillion-dollar wireless public safetynetwork, Nextel co-founder Morgan O’Brien said Thursday.

O’Brien’s new company, Cyren Call Communications Corp., filed aproposal Thursday with the FCC calling for the agency to cordon offa 30MHz chunk of spectrum in the 700MHz band being vacated as U.S.broadcasters move from analog to digital broadcasts by 2009. Thespectrum, which would be held in a “public safety broadband trust”at the FCC, would be used for commercial purposes after police,fire and other public safety agencies’ needs are met.

This trust would negotiate terms for long-term access to thisspectrum with private companies that would agree to build andmaintain a nationwide, next-generation network for public safety.In exchange, the private sector entities would gain the right toshare the network and sell excess capacity for commercial purposes,according to the Cyren Call proposal.

A new approach for public safety spectrum is needed, and thespectrum would provide a nationwide voice and data network forpolice, firefighters and other public safety workers, O’Brien saidat a press conference. “There isn’t the funding available [in theU.S. government] to support new public safety needs,” he said.”There are too many competing needs.”

The Cyren Call plan would take away spectrum slated forcommercial auction in early 2008. Those auctions are expected toraise between US$10 billion and $30 billion, some of which istargeted to help cut the U.S. government’s budget deficit. O’Briensaid he expects a great deal of debate over his plan.

“We are not proposing that the spectrum be … lost tocommercial operations,” he said. “It’s going to continue to have amajor contribution on the commercial side.”

Public safety agencies have long encountered difficultiescommunicating with each other because they use small chunks ofspectrum scattered across the spectrum band. Agencies in adjoiningcities may use radio devices that operate on differentfrequencies.

The U.S. Congress has looked more deeply at public safetyspectrum needs after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on theU.S. The 9/11 Commission investigating the attacks and theiraftermath recommended additional radio spectrum for firstresponders after reports of police and firefighters on the scenenot being able to communicate with each other or with rescuehelicopters.

In February, Congress approved legislation that requires U.S.broadcasters to abandon channels in the 700MHz range and move todigital, or DTV, broadcasts by 2009. Congress targeted 24MHz ofthat spectrum to be used for public safety communications, andanother 30MHz to be auctioned in early 2008 for commercial uses.U.S. tech and wireless companies see the spectrum as optimal forlong-range wireless networks.

Each tower transmitting in the upper 700MHz spectrum band beingabandoned by broadcasters can cover four to five times as large ageographic area as a tower transmitting in a higher frequency band,according to the High Tech DTV Coalition.

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