I lived in Maryland during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. To fill the need to give something back to the community during this time, I took the opportunity to volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. As part of flight and ground crews, I helped run communications between two squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard for surveillance of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
A six-hour stint communicating between the Coast Guard and CAP planes was straight forward, but multiply those efforts by a factor of a thousand; that may reflect the communications needs that big metropolitan areas like my home city, Atlanta, would face on congested interstates from a terrorist incident prior to a ball game.
This is why I support the creation and deployment of a nationwide, interoperable broadband communications network. Communications during a catastrophic incident should not be hampered by an inability of public safety units to talk to each other and send valuable information simultaneously across jurisdictional lines.
In 2012, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The Act laid out the framework for building a broadband network that would ease the ability of first responders to communicate and provide the services necessary to keep American citizens safe.
To provide the $7 billion needed to build the network, Congress authorized an incentive auction that gives broadcast television stations the opportunity to put up for sale their spectrum licenses and collect some of the proceeds. A successful auction should cover the price tag, but with all expectations there is a fly in the ointment, and in this case it’s calls for restrictions on who may participate in the auction.
Sprint and T-Mobile want the Federal Communications Commission to limit the amount of spectrum (access to the airwaves) that carriers AT&T and Verizon can bid for. This request not only flies in the face of Congress’ intent to have a bidding process open to all willing participants, but it also dispels with common sense.
First, if you want to optimize the amount of revenue an auction can rake in, you need to allow all interested bidders to participate. They want the spectrum and are willing to pay for it. The successful build out of the public safety network will not happen if enough money is not raised.
Second, if you cap the amount of spectrum AT&T or Verizon are able to bid on, you deny access to higher quality services by a significant number of wireless subscribers. Why should these consumers be denied better services because of they exercised their rights to choose a larger carrier?
Third, broadcasters will have an incentive to give up their spectrum licenses if they are assured that sufficient revenue to cover their demands is being raised by the auction. As the certainty of higher revenues collected increases, chances increase that more broadcasters will participate in the auction.
We don’t need a repeat of September 11, 2001. The FCC should vigorously pursue Congress’ intent to keep the incentive auction open to all potential participants. Let’s stay focused on the goal of protecting American lives.