Saving the last beachfront spectrum

Entrepreneur Vanu Bose says the FCC spectrum auction should include a nationwide public safety network that supports interoperability.

3 min read
The Federal Communications Commission has just issued proposals for auctioning 700MHz spectrum, which is being called the "last beachfront spectrum."

These airwaves are "beachfront" because the laws of physics make them very useful, both to send signals and to penetrate walls, allowing signals to be received inside buildings.

With the upcoming auction of these valuable airwaves, we have the opportunity to address a critical unmet public need: nationwide, interoperable public safety communications.

Sadly, we know all too well the problems of public safety communications and interoperability. They plagued rescue attempts at Columbine High School in 1999, as well as after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and, most recently, at Virginia Tech this year. Despite the significant money, plans and efforts directed at this problem, we have to acknowledge that sufficient progress has not been made, and step back and ask why.

This is the last beachfront spectrum that is likely to become available in our lifetime.

Examining the state of nationwide public safety communications today, it is clear that the way in which public safety communications networks are financed lies at the root of the public safety interoperability problem. Local, state and federal agencies fund and build out their own communications networks. The budgets for these systems vary dramatically. This leads to completely different technology choices. The result is the "balkanized" public safety networks we have today.

What is needed is a nationwide public safety network that supports interoperability. In the past, this has not been technically feasible because each network could only be built to support a single technology. Advances in wireless technology have made it possible to run a single network that supports multiple standards, enabling the creation of a single network that supports multiple radios that are otherwise incompatible today.

However, building a new nationwide interoperable network would be a significant burden on the U.S. Treasury, which is why I support the proposal by Frontline Wireless in which my company, Cambridge, Mass.-based Vanu, is a partner. Frontline's proposal would ensure that whoever wins part of this spectrum would provide free build-out for public safety users of a national, IP-based network for interoperability and provide access to adjacent commercial spectrum when needed during emergencies.

The network would allow public safety users--as well as commercial counterparts--to use any equipment they select, fostering availability of broadband tools that are innovative and competitively priced. Vanu shares Frontline's vision for interoperability, improving rural coverage and enabling open networks.

This is the last beachfront spectrum that is likely to become available in our lifetime. I commend U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) for taking the important step of hosting a hearing on the future of wireless, including the competing uses for the 700MHz spectrum.

Too often, rights to use spectrum are monopolized by a small number of large companies, which slows innovation and hurts both public safety and consumers. Let's ensure that part of the price of acquiring this spectrum involves solving our most pressing public safety communications problems.