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FCC wireless auction for police and fire departments too

Government officials are writing rules to determine how to use extremely valuable wireless spectrum that will be auctioned in September to the highest bidder.

There's a tremendous amount of attention focused on whether the Federal Communication Commission's September auction of new wireless spectrum in the 700 MHz band will be "open access," available to many mobile providers and applications, or be limited to whatever the auction winner wants to do with it.

There is also an important public safety issue in this debate that is not getting as much attention. That is whether some of this valuable wireless real estate should be reserved by the FCC for our first responders--the people who drive our ambulances, show up for fires, and are around to solve and prevent crimes.

Our police officers, firefighters, and public safety workers deserve an integrated communications network so they can talk to each other. Remember when police and firefighters were unable to effectively communicate in the middle of the September 11 disaster? Firefighters' radios failed, and many could not contact their brothers and sisters in the NYPD. The disaster was worse because of it.

The FCC plans to decide in the next week or two what rules will apply to the winners of the upcoming auction. CNN describes the public safety rule this way: "(It would) combine some spectrum acquired through the auction with some that will be controlled by public safety to build a broadband wireless network for use by the country's fire, police and emergency services workers."

Anything wrong with that, in the midst of all the money that the auction winner stands to make on commercial uses of these airwaves? Write, call, or mail FCC Chairman Kevin Martin with you views. As an FCC veteran, I can tell you that these communications matter and that the big corporate interests are not short on expressing their own views.

Chairman Kevin Martin
Federal Communications Commission
445 Twelfth Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
Phone: 202.418.1000
Fax: 202-418-2801
Reference: WT Docket Nos. 06-150, 06-169, and 96-86; PS Docket No. 06-229

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News stories:
CNET Unlock the cell phone? It's a high-stakes debate
CNN: FCC Draft Auction Rules A Win For Google, Hi-Tech Industry
KQED Radio's Forum: Net Neutrality