FCC denies group's request for rights to public airwaves
Washington Business Journal - November 10, 2006
by Ben Hammer
The Federal Communications Commission has shut the door on Nextel
co-founder Morgan O'Brien's request to set aside a portion of the
country's airwaves for a public safety network to be managed by his new
O'Brien is co-founder and chairman of McLean-based Cyren Call
Communications, which had asked the FCC for airwave rights that a
proposed public-private initiative could use to build a communications
network for public safety officials.
The company would collect fees from industry partners who would pay for
the ability to provide services over the network for government agencies.
The airwaves that Cyren Call wants reserved for the network are
scheduled to be auctioned for commercial use by Jan. 28, 2008.
The FCC asked for public comment on Cyren Call's proposal Oct. 30 and
then dismissed it in a Nov. 3 ruling, saying the request was
"inconsistent" with existing law.
The decision now puts the spotlight on the next stage in Cyren Call's
strategy: Persuade Congress to pass legislation that would clear the way
for FCC approval of its proposal. The company says Congress needs to act
by next fall to leave enough time for the FCC to act on the proposal
before the scheduled auction.
Cyren Call did get one concession from the FCC. The agency let the
public comment period continue through Nov. 29.
"Our focus has been to get a record created at the commission that we
could share with our friends in Congress," says co-founder John Melcher,
Cyren Call's executive vice president for external affairs. "It helps to
have that when you hit the Hill."
Cyren Call is supporting its campaign with a $4 million war chest
secured earlier this year from Columbia Capital of D.C., New Enterprise
Associates of Baltimore and Silicon Valley firms Battery Ventures and
Oak Investment Partners.
The company has won the endorsement of some public safety groups for
certain aspects of its proposal, but many people in the communications
field and other industries oppose the plan.
"We strongly believe that the spectrum should be auctioned," says Chris
Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA-The
Wireless Association, which represents 300 wireless carriers, device
manufacturers and equipment companies. "It makes sense from a
His group also opposes a separate proposal by D.C. startup M2Z Networks,
which wants the FCC to issue it a license for spectrum that would
typically be auctioned off.
M2Z would use the license to build a national broadband network that
would provide free low-speed service and sell high-speed service. The
company would pay 5 percent of the revenue to the U.S. treasury. It has
raised $10 million from investors who have committed up to $400 million
to build the network.
M2Z co-founder and CEO John Muleta says the Cyren Call ruling has no
impact on M2Z. He says M2Z's plans are entirely different, in part
because the company is seeking access to different sets of airwaves.
M2Z faces significant challenges in advancing its plan, says lawyer
Shirley Fujimoto of McDermott, Will & Emery, who heads the D.C. office's
telecommunications practice and is following both M2Z and Cyren Call for
"The FCC in recent history has preferred to have spectrum allocated in
public auctions," she says. "This flies in the face of that."
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