AT&T and Verizon side with firefighters against FCC

Posted by Emma Woollacott

AT&T and Verizon are giving their support to an alliance of police and firefighters that aims to reserve spare spectrum for emergency services. If they win, it means that the spectrum won't be auctioned off to the carriers' competitors.

The FCC has said it wants to sell off the spare frequencies to other commercial companies. Since 2008, AT&T and Verizon have benefited from being the carriers with the most spectrum, and would probably be excluded from an auction.

The spectrum would likely go to smaller competitors.

But firefighters point out that after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, emergency communications were disrupted. They want the D block airwaves to be made available for an improved emergency network.

"It is mind boggling that America remains vulnerable in these days of constant communications when a text to American Idol takes precedence over our first responders' ability to communicate with each other over common radio frequencies," says Jeff Johnson, Tualatin Valley fire and rescue chief, and president and chairman of the board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Bet you feel guilty now.

While the FCC has conceded the need for improvement, it says the police and firefighters already have plenty of spectrum. Instead, it says, it will give them the $4 billion or so that a spectrum auction will raise to buy equipment to improve the existing public safety network.

But this simply isn't enough, says the Public Safety Alliance (PSA).

"In these tough economic times, it is not practical to believe that there will be a consistent funding source to build out the nationwide network if the D Block is auctioned off for commercial purposes," William J Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations said in a letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski.

"Allocating the D Block to public safety is the only way to ensure a reliable, robust broadband network that meets the needs of a modern first responder community."

According to BusinessWeek,  AT&T and Verizon plan to support the PSA indirectly, though the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).