Verizon is among several entities that told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week to hold off on any plan to grant FirstNet – and by extension AT&T – a nationwide license to the 4.9 GHz band.

In case you aren’t up to speed, here’s the recap: The Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA) supports a proposal to assign the 4.9 GHz band to FirstNet, which runs on AT&T’s network.

The Coalition for Emergency Response and Critical Infrastructure (CERCI) opposes that plan and argues that the 4.9 GHz band should remain in the control of local authorities. For example, cities like New York and Boston use the 4.9 GHz band for transportation and emergency communications.

Verizon’s 4.9 GHz giveaway issues

Verizon executives recently met with FCC personnel to express support for CERCI’s positions in the 4.9 GHz proceeding, including its call for retaining local public safety control of the band and its opposition to the PSSA’s proposal to assign the 4.9 GHz band to FirstNet, either directly through a nationwide license or indirectly through a sharing agreement.

“PSSA would take the 4.9 GHz band out of the hands of local public safety entities and give it to FirstNet, and in turn AT&T, gutting the policy the Commission set forth last year in favor of local public safety control of the band,” wrote Verizon SVP/Federal Regulatory and Legal Affairs William Johnson in a filing with the FCC.   

At the outset, there’s no evidence to support assigning another 50 megahertz to FirstNet, he said.

“Nothing in the record documents that FirstNet lacks access to sufficient spectrum to meet its statutory role,” he said. “FirstNet has never explained the breakdown of AT&T’s use of Band 14, nor the percentage of Band 14 traffic that is AT&T public safety (i.e., FirstNet) versus AT&T commercial. And, because AT&T provides its FirstNet customers with priority access to Band 14 and to all of AT&T’s commercial bands, it is unclear why AT&T’s FirstNet customers have any need for access to more spectrum assigned to FirstNet.”

Verizon then went on to explain that PSSA’s proposed spectrum “giveaway” would disrupt the competitive marketplace for public safety and commercial wireless use and pointed to a “multitude of problems” with PSSA’s proposal.

Of course, Verizon is competing for public safety business via its Verizon Frontline division. It supports more than 35,000 agencies across the U.S. and claims it’s the No. 1 choice in public safety with more than 50% of the primary first responder market for voice services.

“The impact of a spectrum giveaway on the commercial wireless marketplace would be similarly dramatic, particularly at a time when the Commission and other policymakers are working to replenish the empty pipeline for mid-band spectrum,” Johnson said. “Providing AT&T with access to an additional 50 megahertz of mid-band spectrum that would largely be put to use for commercial customers would result in a substantial windfall.”

The Brattle Group recently valued the 50 megahertz of 4.9 GHz spectrum at over $14 billion, he said. “A giveaway that would advantage a single provider, and one with no competitive process, would undermine the competitive wireless marketplace and U.S. spectrum policy,” he said.  

If the agency does embrace PSSA’s proposal, then it needs to consider a “lawful way” to assign the spectrum through a competitive process, such as an auction or bidding process, rather than “gifting the spectrum” to one commercial provider. “Were there an auction, Verizon would support proceeds going to public safety priorities,” such as funding Next Gen 911, he added.

4.9 GHz giveaway critics weigh in

Separately, the Santiago Garces, the chief information officer (CIO) for the City of Boston, told the commission that the city opposes any proposal that would remove control of the 4.9 GHz band from local first responders, including the Boston Police department, Boston EMS and Boston Housing Authority. The 4.9 GHz band is essential for emergency communications and resiliency, Garces said.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) also weighed in, providing an update on its use of the 4.9 GHz band for MTA’s Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) modernization project. MTA explained that the CBTC program is essential to the New York City subway’s state of good repair, that it will substantially increase safety and reliability of travel and that the loss of the 4.9 GHz band for MTA’s local use would be “devastating” to the program due to the lack of suitable spectrum alternatives.

In April, the FirstNet Authority told the FCC that use of the 4.9 GHz spectrum would be for public safety on a primary basis and that under the proposed framework, the FirstNet Authority would protect existing incumbent operations in the 4.9 GHz band.

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