Verizon Wireless pitches plan to build public-safety network using 700 MHz band
By Heather Forsgren Weaver
By Jeffrey Silva
Sep 6, 2006
WASHINGTON—Verizon Wireless is pitching a plan to build a nationwide broadband public-safety network in the 700 MHz band, according to sources familiar with the plan. The spectrum has already been allocated to public safety as part of the transition to digital TV.

The Verizon Wireless plan envisions using 12 of the 24 megahertz set aside for public safety to build a nationwide public-safety broadband network. Verizon Wireless would augment its existing infrastructure as necessary to give public-safety the coverage it needs and then would extract rent from public-safety agencies across the country to use that infrastructure. The spectrum, however, would not be shared with Verizon Wireless’ commercial customers.

Verizon Wireless has met with top public-safety officials including the Association of Public-safety Communications Officials, according to the sources.

“APCO has no comment at this time,” said Robert Gurss, APCO director of legal and government affairs, when asked about Verizon Wireless’ proposal.

Verizon Wireless said it cannot respond to a request for comment due to the on-going auction for advanced wireless services spectrum.

The Verizon Wireless plan is strikingly similar to one proposed in the spring by Cyren Call Communications Inc.

Cyren has asked Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to set aside 30 megahertz of spectrum in the upper 700 MHz band for a public-safety network that the wireless industry would build and share with first responders. Cyren envisions a public-private partnership with commercial operators that would underwrite network-infrastructure deployments in the 700 MHz band. First responders and others would have preferential access to the 30 megahertz during emergencies, but would otherwise occupy a very small portion of the network capacity to satisfy day-to-day public-safety requirements.

Congress has already designated 24 megahertz of the 700 MHz band for public safety; the rest is to be auctioned. The Cyren Call plan would allocate two 15-megahertz chunks—spectrum currently scheduled to be auctioned—on either side of this 24-megahertz public-safety allocation for its public-private partnership.

Rather than use the 30 megahertz of spectrum Congress wants auctioned, the Verizon Wireless plan would focus on the 24 megahertz already allocated to public safety.

It appears the Verizon Wireless plan would need congressional approval. It is unclear whether Verizon Wireless plans to pay the federal government for using public airwaves for commercial gain.

Cyren filed its plan with the FCC in April. The FCC has yet to act on the Cyren petition.

Cyren has spent the summer lining up public-safety organizations to endorse its plan. Cyren has been very careful to say it does not want to touch the 24 megahertz of spectrum already allocated to public safety. In various statements, public-safety officials have said public-safety agencies need access to more than the 24 megahertz currently allocated to public-safety; however, the Verizon Wireless plan seems to ignore this. The carrier’s plan stands as a challenge to Cyren’s proposal.

This is not the first time Verizon Wireless has come up with a public-safety plan for the 700 MHz band. Last year in the last hours of a debate regarding setting a hard date for the DTV transition, Verizon Wireless proposed Congress set the auction for 700 MHz channels during the first quarter of 2007—two years before the spectrum will become available. The idea was to sell the commercial spectrum earlier so that public-safety would get quicker access to the revenue it is slated to get from the auction receipts. The plan fell on deaf ears and Congress set the auction date for no later than Jan. 28, 2008.

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