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Powell Weighs in on the Allocation of Communications Spectrum

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell has weighed in on a plan to rethink allocation of emergency communications spectrum.

He sent a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) supporting the DTV transition bill's plan for first responder communications and taking aim at an alternative being pushed by company Cyren Call.

According to a copy of the letter, which is dated February 7,  Powell says the committee got it right in the DTV transition bill. The bill which sets a hard date of the transition, and sets aside $1 billion and 24 mHz of spectrum  for first responders. He said during his tenure he "saw the need to act urgently and resist the never-ending parade of new ideas and new plans." Putting an even finer point on it, he adds: "Delay in this context can literally mean death."

Powell said that any attempt to go in a different direction should be tested against some important criteria. Cyren Call is suggesting taking half of the spectrum 60 mHz scheduled for auction and put it in a public-private trust fund to create a national interoperable network that the private partner would build and operate for profit and that first responders would also have access to whenever it needed it for emergencies. Morgan O'Brien, chairman of Cyren Call, likened it to using the highway, but moving over whenever those red lights appeared in the rearview mirror.

But Powell was flashing his own red light in the letter, saying the plan should be gauged against the following questions:

1) Would it delay existing plans for an interoperable system?, adding "we have a good approach now and uncertainty will stall implementation." 2) Would it disrupt funding? 3) Is it complex, with too many moving parts. 4) "Who is going to benefit the most, those in uniform who are sworn to serve or those in suits who are set to profit?"

The Senate Commerce Committee is considering a bill giving guidance on the administration of the $1 billion for first responder communications.