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Verizon calls for public access to D Block

Public safety should get free spectrum

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Steve Zipperstein, Verizon's vice president for legal and external affairs, has called on the FCC to hand over the D Block of spectrum to public safety bodies instead of trying to auction it off again.

The plan, which emerged from a speech given to the National Press Club in Washington, as reported by PolicyTracker, calls for local public-safety organisations to be allocated radio spectrum without charge, to use as they see fit.

The spectrum, which falls towards the middle of 700MHz, was unsuccessfully put on the auction block 12 months ago, at which time it emerged that no-one was prepared to pay $1.3bn for spectrum they'd have to share with the emergency services. The current plan is to auction it off again, with a more-modest reserve of $750m, but Mr. Zipperstein thinks it should be handed over to public safety bodies for their exclusive use.

The idea would be that local public-safety bodies would be able to use the spectrum, managed by local authorities, and be at liberty to deploy technologies purchased from any company they like: "Direct assignment of all of the spectrum to state and local public safety entities will enable them to have greater control over network design and day-to-day operation", as Mr. Zipperstein put it.

But the choice of technology will be decided nationally: "letting them develop independently without any guiding national principles would simply repeat the mistakes of the past", so Mr. Zipperstein goes on to explain that an IP-based technology would ensure interoperability, and that the cost of deployment could be met through long-term contracts (like the UK's Airwave System, that O2 paid to build).

The original, and current, plan is to have the buyer of the D Block build the infrastructure and then provide the emergency services with priority access to it, but since that plan was created we have a new head commissioner on the FCC, who will almost certainly want to revisit the plan so things could easily shift in Verizon's proposed direction.

That would mean no competitor picking up some cheap 700MHz spectrum, and could provide a large number of smaller contracts, but it could also mean America gets the public-safety network it needs without trying to flog spectrum no-one seems to want. ®

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