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State-Local Groups Take Spectrum Message to the Hill
Call for Preserving D Block for Public Safety

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
May 24, 2010

The U.S. Conference of Mayors joined with other state and local groups, including the National Governors Association, the National League of Cities, and National Association of Counties, to sponsor several briefings for Hill staff on the importance of preserving the 700 MHz D Block for public safety. Making the case at the May 14 sessions were New York Police Department Deputy Chief Charles Dowd, Tualatin Valley (OR) Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Johnson, and Seattle's Chief Technology Officer Bill Schrier.

Dowd commented that allocation of the D Block to public safety is critical to achieving not just interoperability, but also operability. Police use spectrum for many different operations, he explained. It can allow the police to make crime connections that might not otherwise be obvious, thus enabling them to solve homicides and other serious crimes much more quickly. The bomb squad needs available spectrum to be able to activate and use its robots.

Dowd said that the 700 spectrum is ideal for public safety because it has excellent coverage characteristics, and history shows that commercial systems will fail before public safety systems do. He told the Congressional staffers that this is a one-time opportunity to get this right and that first responders “need spectrum to get the job done for you.”

Schrier discussed the need that second responders - including public works, transportation, and utility workers - have for adequate spectrum. He explained that because different pieces of the spectrum have been used in different places, equipment from one jurisdiction often cannot communicate with equipment from another. “The technology exists to build the needed networks, but we do not have sufficient bandwidth today to do the job,” he said.

Johnson likened the D Block to Yellowstone National Park, calling it “an irreplaceable asset.” He explained that, “It's the only spectrum left that can penetrate buildings and that it's the only place where we can build out because television has vacated it.” Johnson stated that he and his colleagues came in for the session “because it's right and they cannot agree with the FCC on this.”

The Federal Communication Commission's National Broadband Plan proposes to auction off the D Block for commercial purposes. That auction is set for early next year. The state and local groups and a host of major public safety organizations are working closely together, calling on the FCC to slow down its plans to auction off the D Block and urging Congress to reallocate it to public safety.