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FCC Hears Cyren Call of Interoperability

The Senate Commerce Committee heard a pitch Thursday for creating a public-private trust and putting half of the spectrum being reclaimed from the switch to DTV into the trust. Pushing back on the idea were legislators suggesting the proposal could muck up the DTV transition.

Police and fire chiefs testifying before the legislators argued that the trust would provide enough spectrum and funds to create an inter-operable nationwide emergency communications system. The creation of this system is high on the list of Congress post-9/11.

The idea, being pitched by a company called Cyren Call, is that the 30 Mhz that would be put into the fund is enough spectrum to attract private capital to build the network. Then it could be used for private purposes when it wasn't being used for emergencies

Arguing against the proposal was the wireless telephone industry. CTIA President Steve Largent said that the 24 mHz of spectrum already allocated for emergency response by the DTV transition bill is sufficient to create that network. He continued to say that taking an additional 30 Mhz out of the auction would disrupt the transition to digital and the roll-out of advanced wireless services by the companies--his members--planning to bid on the spectrum at auction.

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), was particularly skeptical about the Cyren Call proposal. He said it sounded good in theory, but in practice could undermine funding for the DTV set-top box converter program and other programs slated to get money from the auction.

Cyren Call Chairman Morgan O'Brien, who pioneered Nextel, said his proposal would provide the widest possible public safety network that would be otherwise economically infeasible.

Senator John Sununu also had some tough questions about the proposal. While stipulating that everyone in the room supported public safety, he said that he was concerned about the effect on the DTV transition bill that was 10 years in the making, including the impact on auction revenues by halving the spectrum auctioned. He also suggested that the spectrum currently in the hands of public safety--about 25 mHz--was not being used effectively now.

The first responders on the panel bristled, suggesting the criticism was from academics not those in the field.

In hopes of providing an alternative to the Cyren Call proposal, Largent said the wireless industry would meet with first responders to hash out a solution at an April seminar led by former Dale Hatlfield, the former chief of the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology in Washington.

O'Brien countered that the problem wouldn't be solved by a seminar run "by Mark Hatfield or Albert Einstein." The 24 mHz the FCC has set aside isn't sufficient critical mass to attract private capital. "It's math, not politics," he said.