Public safety network demands successful wireless auctions

In 2012, with passage of The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, a nationwide interoperable broadband public safety network (FirstNet) was planned. To cover the $7 billion price tag, a spectrum incentive auction is being designed to repurpose airwaves currently owned by TV broadcasters. Revenue raised by the sale of those airwaves will be used to fund the deployment of FirstNet and for Next Generation 9-1-1.

In order to be successful, however, the auction must generate maximum revenue by capturing the full value of repurposed spectrum. This is the best and perhaps only opportunity to raise the necessary funds for investment in a network we so desperately need. We cannot settle for half-measures and incremental moves – the FCC must take decisive steps and set up an auction that delivers the resources needed to empower our public safety officials.

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An incentive auction permitting all bidders to participate will be the most effective way to deliver the funds necessary to build FirstNet and help deploy Next Generation 9-1-1. If the most likely bidders in the auction face participation limits, then as a recent study found, auction proceeds would fall 40 percent. Restrictions, including limits on bids, would likely slash $12 billion in revenue. Broadcasters wishing to make the most of their spectrum holdings will be more hesitant to offer up their airwaves for bidding. A limited spectrum inventory will reduce funds generated from the auction, and jeopardize the future of FirstNet and funding for Next Generation 9-1-1.

To best equip America’s 1.2 million first responders, who brave disaster and risk their lives, a nationwide public safety broadband network must be put in place. As Vice President Joe Biden noted last year, FirstNet “fulfill[s] a promise made to first responders after 9/11 that they would have the technology they need to stay safe and do their jobs.” We can no longer wait for this integral piece of public safety infrastructure, and we have to get it right by using an incentive auction that allows for full participation, and thus the maximum funding for FirstNet and Next Generation 9-1-1.

Fontes is the chief executive officer for the National Emergency Number Association, the only professional organization solely focused on 9-1-1 policy, technology, operations, and education issues.

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