Timing Lousy for Emergency Communications Plan


 
 

John Dunbar | | Thursday, September 25, 2008


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A government plan to build a nationwide emergency communications network using private money and public airwaves flopped earlier this year when investors stayed away in droves.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission was trying again, this time in the midst of a full-blown economic crisis.

The commission was scheduled to vote on a tentative plan that makes the idea more palatable to potential investors perhaps too palatable, some say.

The proposed network would be used by police, firefighters and other emergency crews responding to disasters or terrorist attacks.

The basic concept is unchanged, according to people familiar with the draft, which has not yet been made public.

The agency would auction a swath of airwaves made available thanks to the transition to digital broadcasting to a private bidder. That spectrum would be combined with a roughly equal portion of airwaves controlled by a public safety trust.

The private investor would build a wireless network and lease access to emergency responders while selling wireless service to commercial users for profit.

In March, the plan failed to attract a minimum bid of $1.3 billion. Potential investors said the proposal was too vague and too risky to serve as the basis of a multibillion-dollar investment.

Ideally, a new network will help solve the problem of public safety organizations not being able to communicate with one another. It also would avail emergency personnel of many of the advances in wireless technology that are accessible to commercial users.

The FCC says a national network could cost between $6 billion and $7 billion, but private sector estimates are more than double that amount.

To make the plan more appealing to investors, the revised FCC plan would reduce the minimum bid for a national license by half and relax requirements on how quickly the bidder must construct its network. The plan also would allow bids on regional licenses rather than require only a single, national license.

"My policy priority is less about the impact on competition or how much money we raise, but more about the impact on making sure that local police, fire and medical personnel are able to communicate with each other during emergencies," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told reporters in a conference call earlier this month.

The draft rules would allow the private bidder to charge public safety organizations $48.50 a month, per user, which could be "cost prohibitive" to smaller and rural public safety users, according to Jessica Zufolo, a telecommunications analyst for Medley Global Advisors.

It is difficult to say whether any company will bid this time around.

Contenders include AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless, the nation's top two wireless providers. The companies have paid billions of dollars for similar spectrum. Adding a public safety component to their networks would be easier for them than for a company starting from scratch.

"Because they've already allocated the substantial resources necessary, there would be just an incremental increase in construction costs," Zufolo said.

But auctioning by region may make it easier for smaller carriers to participate.

Adding to the sense of uncertainty is the current financial climate. With Congress considering a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, banks are not in a position to lend billions for a largely speculative undertaking.

It is also difficult to say when such a network might be built. Martin is recommending a short comment period on the new plan, a move that drew protests from top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who want more time to look over the proposal. The chairman's current timetable could result in final rules in November.

An auction could take place six months to nine months later.

On the Net:

Federal Communications Commission: http://www.fcc.gov




Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Communications and Dispatch, Operations and Protcols

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get JEMS in Your Inbox

 

Fire EMS Blogs


Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts

 

EMS Airway Clinic

The Evolution of Civilian High Threat Medical Guidelines

How mass killing events have proven a need for new guidelines.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Baltimore Man Rescued from Building Collapse

Rowhouse collapse traps a worker in the basement area.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

A Night with Wisconsin’s Busiest Medic Unit

Ride along one night with the paramedics of MED 5.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Patient Dies in West Virginia Ambulance Rollover

Marion County Rescue Squad crew is injured in collision.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Rescue Volunteers in Syria

White Helmets group at work during fighting.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

Boulder Pins Colorado Hiker

Wilderness EMS team frees trapped hiker.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

North Dakota Oilfield Medics

Tactics used in offshore platforms tailored to the remote areas.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

The AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher Conversion Kit - EMS Today 2013

AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher all-hazards preparedness & response tool
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >


More Product Videos >