FCC awards spectrum to public safety group

Public Safety Spectrum Trust granted 10MHz of the 700MHz spectrum in anticipation of building out a nationwide emergency communications network

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has awarded the license for 10MHz of valuable wireless spectrum to a public safety organization in anticipation of the spectrum being used to build out a nationwide emergency communications network.

The FCC awarded the license for the spectrum in the 700MHz band to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), a nonprofit organization with representatives from several public safety groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Sheriffs' Association, on Monday. The 10MHz awarded to PSST will be combined with an adjacent 10MHz of spectrum that will be auctioned in early 2008 with the winning bidder required to create a nationwide wireless network for both public safety agencies and commercial use.

The FCC award to PSST was expected. PSST was the only applicant for the nationwide license.

PSST will negotiate a network-sharing agreement with the winning bidder on the adjacent 10MHz of spectrum and it will administer usage fees for the nationwide network. The organization will also review requests for early build-outs, and it will manage public safety access to the commercial portion of the spectrum during emergencies, according to the FCC.

PSST members are grateful to the FCC for "recognizing the significant amount of work and progress achieved by the PSST to fulfill the FCC’s guidelines for creating a nationwide network for public safety,” said Harlin McEwen, PSST's chairman, in a statement. “Holding the spectrum license is a responsibility the PSST takes very seriously as we embark upon building an unprecedented interoperable communications system for public safety.”

The PSST spectrum is part of a chunk of spectrum being abandoned by U.S. television stations after the U.S. Congress in late 2005 required them to move to all-digital broadcasts by early 2009. The FCC will auction 62MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band starting on Jan. 24.

Several lawmakers and groups pushed for part of the spectrum to be used for an emergency communications network. During the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and in more recent disasters, emergency response agencies found they couldn't talk to each other because they were using a variety of equipment on different spectrum bands.

The auction of 700MHz band of spectrum is expected to raise more than $10 billion. Several companies are eyeing the spectrum to use for long-range wireless broadband networks. The spectrum is particularly valuable because signals can travel three to four times farther than wireless signals on higher-spectrum bands.