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NPSTC to FCC: Drop wireless mics from 700 MHz

Ed. Note: PoliceOne will delve deeply into the issue of the "D-Block" segment of spectrum in the August Technology Newsletter, and will address several issues involving communications capabilities for law enforcement throughout the month of August.

LITTLETON, Co. – As the month of June drew to a close, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action to ensure that wireless microphones and similar audio devices would no longer be certified or marketed in the 700 MHz public safety spectrum.

“The 700 MHz band spectrum is an essential resource for public safety, both to support mission-critical narrowband systems and the prospective nationwide interoperable broadband system,” NPSTC said in a written statement issued late last week.

At issue is a tectonic shift about to take place in the administration and use of a swath of wireless broadband spectrum – previously used by television stations broadcasting over-the-air channels – that was held at auction by the FCC earlier this year. While the auction ended with nearly $20 billion changing hands, the so-called “D-Block” garnered few bids, and fell far short of meeting the minimum “reserve price” of $1.3 billion for the national public-safety/commercial license.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 2008. The recenlty completed FCC spectrum auction raised billions for the U.S. Treasury but failed to establish a path toward the creation of a national emergency communications network. Martin had once called the 700 MHz auction the most important auction ever. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Consequently, that patch of wireless terrain remains, for now, unclaimed, and while FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and various legislative committees continue their navel-gazing, serious questions remain about what will come of the segment of spectrum which had been set aside for use by public safety agencies.

When the auction process officially closed this Spring, Chariman Martin had expressed hope that a new auction could be conducted in November, but at present, that does not appear likely. The NPSTC, however, is not waiting around to see what happens in coming months, and is continuing to clear the space for use by first responders.

The NPSTC issued a press release late last week in which the organization said that the FCC should "initiate a rulemaking to prohibit certification, marketing, and use of wireless microphones ... within the 700 MHz public safety bands. However, there are unlicensed wireless microphones in the band which already have no specific authority to operate but are prevalent in the market. Since they are not authorized and there are no ‘rules’ to be changed, NPSTC recommended the Commission consider taking action on unlicensed use without the natural delay inherent in a rulemaking.

“For example, the Commission could issue a Public Notice advising the public of the transition in use of the 700 MHz spectrum to public safety and noting that to ensure interference does not occur to these critical services, operations in the 700 MHz public safety spectrum must cease,” the NPSTC went on to say in last week’s announcement.

The aim of the NPSTC is to balance the needs of public safety in the still to be determined 700 Mhz spectrum, and yet be sensitive to the needs of microphone manufacturers, dealers and users to make the transition to other channels.

A copy of NPSTC's recommendation to the FCC is available on NPSTC's FCC Filings Page.

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