The Senate held another hearing on 700 MHz.  Senate Committee Chairman Inouye (D-Hawaii) assembled two good panels to discuss the upcoming auction.  The first panel looked at Public Safety spectrum needs in the context of Frontline’s proposal.  The second panel discussed commercial use and allocation of the 700 MHz spectrum. 

There were no real surprises yesterday.  However, I believe a great deal of information was gleaned from Paul Cosgrave (Comissioner, NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications).  I want to focus my thoughts on his comments to the Committee.  I touched upon most of what was discussed on the second panel earlier this week.

The first panel’s focus was on Public Safety and whether or not Frontline Wireless’ proposal – specifically, the commercial-public safety hybrid network – was a good idea.  With regard to Frontline, I think more questions were raised about the proposal and it was not blessed by lawmakers as the answer for Public Safety’s spectrum needs.  On that note, Paul Cosgrave described how they have effectively put together an interoperable network in NYC.  His comments reminded me of Mayor Bloomberg’s testimony before the Senate Committee of Homeland Security & Government Affairs earlier this year.  The main sentiment was that New York didn’t have time to wait for Washington to solve their needs.  Accordingly, NYC looked for funds to help implement their solution but did not want a mandate from government on a technology solution for Public Safety (or to be punished for implementing a solution and not receiving federal funds).  Overall, Mr. Cosgrave stated that he was not sure that the (Frontline) network would be engineered appropriately for Public Safety and that a “one size fits all” solution is not the answer.

A couple of related thoughts -

Commercial networks are built and act differently than a public safety network.  Commercial wireless networks are affected by weather and don’t always have the best penetration in buildings.  Public Safety must have a bullet-proof network.

Consumers’ calls to 911 and loved ones are important.  In the instance of a major disaster or terrorist attack, consumers need to have a sense that their call will have a chance to connect.  The thought of getting preempted or knowing that you are using a carrier that will preempt you in the event of an emergency doesn’t seem palatable.  Safety is your most important call.

Leasing deals with Public Safety so that they can use the spectrum seems – in this instance – a recipe for disaster.

Spectrum is a public resource.  With regard to Frontline, enriching a few investors, gambling on this public safety network, and altering the market (conditions placed on the license – make it less valuable) for that spectrum will ultimately leave many consumers and taxpayers with a bad taste in their mouth.

Dish Disclosure – Our firm represents CTIA and the Wireless Broadband Coalition.