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----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, October 26, 2006 4:14 PM
Subject: PRESS RELEASE: New Report Calls for Fundamental Reform in Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Communications Policy

For Immediate Release                                                                      Contact:        Jerry Irvine
October 26, 2006                                                                                                        (301) 801-3356 (cell)
                                                                                                                                    [EMAIL PROTECTED]

New Report Calls for Fundamental Reform in Public Safety Spectrum
and Wireless Communications Policy


Billions in federal investment in emergency radio interoperability will be wasted without major reforms; federal-level Integrated Wireless Network plan called inefficient; IWN should either be opened to state and local first responders or terminated, says academic expert



WASHINGTON (October 26) — The United States must fundamentally alter how spectrum is given to emergency agencies and how wireless safety networks are built and managed before billions of dollars of new federal investments in public safety interoperability are made in the next few years, said Jon M. Peha, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, in a report for the New American Foundation released at a forum earlier today. 


“Unfortunately, policymakers seem likely to preserve the antiquated status quo, thereby forfeiting an opportunity to make communications failures less common, to use spectrum more efficiently, and to reduce the costs borne by taxpayers,” Peha said.  Peha listed four sources of new federal investment that he believes are at risk:


·        $3-to$30 billion on a brand new, nationwide wireless radio system (IWN) for federal first responders;

·        24 MHz of cleared, new spectrum, worth $5-to-$10 billion;

·        $1 billion in set-aside funds for interoperability, to be taken from the auction of adjacent spectrum to commercial users; and

·        Hundreds of millions of dollars annually in homeland security grants for interoperability to state and local agencies.


Peha said IWN should be cancelled unless state and local agencies are added to it.  “There is no reason to invest billions of taxpayer dollars in a network that serves only federal first responders, when a vast majority of first responders work for state and local agencies,” he concluded.


A panel of experts assembled at today’s forum concurred that major changes are needed.


Peha attacked four key assumptions that he said underlie the huge problems faced by public safety wireless systems:


·        Primary responsibility for emergency communications systems can no longer reside with tens of thousands of individual agencies and communities.  Networks must be designed at national or regional levels. 

·        It is not necessary that public safety run its own systems; there are circumstances in which it is efficient to utilize commercial systems as well.

·        Public safety insists on functioning in spectrum devoted solely to public safety, using equipment entirely dedicated to public safety. We should consider making some spectrum available to public safety on a priority basis when needed, but available to commercial users most of the time.

·        Voice communications can no longer be the sole object of public safety radio.  There is a wealth of information available to responders and their agencies if only they could connect to it with wireless and fixed broadband.


Management of new public safety allocations in the 700 MHz band was the primary topic of discussion at today’s forum. Currently, this new spectrum is set to be managed under the same assumptions and orthodoxies as current public safety spectrum allocations—in which spectrum and equipment are designated exclusively for public safety; management is highly decentralized, without national or regional coordination; and narrowband voice communication is the principal application.


Peha argued that reforms could include some combination of: moving toward a consistent nationwide network architecture, allowing commercial carriers to operate public safety networks, and making greater use of shared municipal and commercial broadband wireless and wired networks for data applications.


Other panelists debated alternative proposals for public safety spectrum reform. Michael Gottdenker, CEO of Access Spectrum, described an incremental approach to reorganize newly-allocated public safety bands to promote efficient use of spectrum, while Morgan O’Brien, CEO of Cyren Call and co-founder of Nextel, outlined his more radical proposal to use 30 MHz of returned TV band spectrum to build a shared commercial/public safety network, rather than auctioning it to the highest bidders.


Other panelists, including David Aylward, Director of COMCARE Emergency Response Alliance, and Robert LeGrande of the Spectrum Coalition for Public Safety, reacted to these proposals and offered alternative approaches to support wireless broadband data applications for first responders, and broader emergency communications linking all emergency agencies, including first responders. These various approaches to reform were contrasted with current plans for the management and use of new public safety spectrum.


About the New America Foundation

New America Foundation is a nonprofit, post-partisan, public policy institute whose purpose is to bring exceptionally promising new voices and new ideas to the fore of our nation’s public discourse. Relying on a venture capital approach, the Foundation invests in outstanding individuals and policy solutions that transcend the conventional political spectrum. Through its Wireless Future Program, the Foundation studies and advocates reforms to improve our nation’s management of publicly-owned assets, particularly the public airwaves. Headquartered in our nation’s capital, New America also has offices in California and New York.
For more information on New America’s Wireless Future Program and spectrum policy material, please visit our website.


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