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Do We Need Incremental or Fundamental Reform in Public Safety Spectrum Policy?

After watching first responder communications systems fail on 9/11 and after Hurricane Katrina, with tragic results, the vital importance of spectrum management for public safety communications has taken center stage in recent years. Congress recently passed legislation to reallocate 24 MHz of prime spectrum from TV to public safety in 2009, as part of America’s transition from analog to digital television. Currently, this new spectrum is set to be managed under the same assumptions and orthodoxies as current public safety spectrum allocations -- in which spectrum and equipment are designated exclusively for public safety; management is highly decentralized, without national or regional coordination; and narrowband voice communication is the principal application.

Is it time to consider fundamental reform in the way new public safety spectrum is managed? In a new paper released at this forum, Jon M. Peha, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, argues that fundamental reform would make it possible to achieve critical goals of interoperability, spectral efficiency, dependability, and security while lowering costs and providing access to more advanced mobile data applications. Peha argues that such reforms could include: moving toward a consistent nationwide network architecture, allowing commercial carriers to operate public safety networks, and making greater use of shared municipal and commercial broadband wireless networks for data applications. Click here for video of Peha's presentation at this event.

At the forum itself, participants debated alternative proposals for public safety spectrum reform. Michael Gottdenker, CEO of Access Spectrum, described an incremental approach to reorganize newly-allocated public safety bands to promote efficient use of spectrum, while Morgan O’Brien, CEO of Cyren Call and co-founder of Nextel, outlined his controversial proposal to use 30 MHz of returned TV band spectrum to build a shared commercial/public safety network.

Other panelists, including David Aylward, Director of the COMCARE Alliance, and Robert LeGrande of the Spectrum Coalition for Public Safety, reacted to these proposals and offered alternative approaches to support wireless broadband data applications for first responders. These various approaches to reform also were contrasted with current plans for the management and use of new public safety spectrum.

Full-length video of the event is available at right, while an MP3 audio recording, presentation materials and other supporting documents can be downloaded below.


New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Ave, NW 7th Floor
Washington, DC, 20009
See map: Google Maps


  • Jon M. Peha
    Professor, Electrical Engineering and Public Policy
    Carnegie Mellon University
  • Morgan O’Brien
    CEO, Cyren Call
    Co-founder, Nextel
  • Michael Gottdenker
    CEO, Access Spectrum, LLC
  • David Aylward
    Director, COMCARE Emergency Response Alliance
  • Robert LeGrande
    Deputy Chief Technology Officer,
    District of Columbia Government


  • Michael Calabrese
    Vice President and Director, Wireless Future Program
    New America Foundation

Event Time and Location

Thursday, October 26, 2006 - 1:15pm - 2:45pm

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