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The answer here was a surprise to me based on the fact that 57% of the respondents believed the system should be owned and operated by a single network provider, but when answering this question about how it should be paid for, 100% of those responding indicated that the costs should be split among multiple companies.

D Block Survey Results

Sunday, April 13, 2008

First, I would like to thank all who took the time to take part in the survey I put up last week in conjunction with my COMMENTARY and what to do with the D block. The response was gratifying. While the survey is still open and more people are completing it as I write this, I want to give you an update on what I have learned so far.

First the disclaimer: Most of the people (90%) who took this survey indentified themselves, their titles and their email addresses (this is optional on the survey). It would, however, be wrong to believe that each and every respondent from each company or organization was expressing the opinion of the entire organization. Next, we received responses from both the first responder community and the commercial community. These were mostly from the commercial side, which I was happy to see because it tells me there is concern within that community about the first responders and their need for better communications capabilities. Finally, I was pleased to see that a majority of the respondents believe we need to include solving the broadband issues in rural America problem, and that this network could be used to provide both the updated communications the first responder community so desperately needs and include providing broadband connections to homes and businesses located in rural America.

Now to the questions and answers:

1) Do you believe we need to find a way to help the first responder community?

The answer is a resounding yes! 93% of those who answered the survey said they agreed that we need to help the first responder community, while only 7% did not believe we should. I don’t think there can be any doubt that, at least among the survey respondents, it is acknowledged that we need to help our first responder community with their communications requirements.
2) Do you believe a private/public partnership can be successful?
For this question, I provided three choices: 57% said yes, 36% said maybe and, again, 7% said no. If you add the yeses and maybes, the total percentage is 93%. I believe those who answered ‘maybe’ think, as I do, that politics might get in the way of what is best for all of us.
3) Do you believe that it can be successful if a single commercial operator builds and owns the network?
Here we received a more divided response. 57% believe this undertaking can be successful with a single operator building and owning the network, while 43% said no. If it is believed that this can be successful with the single operator approach, we have to find a way to bring operators to the bidders’ table next time around.
4) Do you believe a consortium approach can work?
This question was based on my COMMENTARY and the answers here were divided 50-50. Perhaps I should have asked a follow-up question about why they did not believe a consortium would work, but at this point I can only surmise that the major concern, again, is that the more companies involved, the more disagreements and issues there will be to deal with. Certainly, the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) should not have to deal with more than a few entities. If it had to work with each individual network as the system was being built, trying to resolve all of the issues surrounding coverage, tying the networks together and who has access to the spectrum when, it would create a situation that mostly likely would result in failure. However, if there were a systems manager who was the key interface to the PSST, in my estimation, it would have a much better chance of succeeding.
5) Do you think it makes sense to split the costs among multiple companies?
The answer here was a surprise to me based on the fact that 57% of the respondents believed the system should be owned and operated by a single network provider, but when answering this question about how it should be paid for, 100% of those responding indicated that the costs should be split among multiple companies. Frankly, I am not sure how to interpret this in light of the previous questions and the answers to them.
6) Does it make sense to include Broadband for Rural America in this plan?

This question is one in which I have a lot of interest. I have been working with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) recently and one of the issues it is facing, of course, is how to economically deploy broadband to its rural customers. It turns out that the 1,400-member electric and telephone companies (some of which are also wireless operators) can contribute a lot to this undertaking in the area of rights-of-ways for cell sites, backhaul in some cases and outlets to reach its installed base and provide services. If you add to this the fact that it can also tap into some federal money that is available from various agencies, the NRTC can become a valuable partner in this project.

The respondents’ answer to this question seems to bear this out: Of the total, 77% said that yes, Rural America Broadband should be included, while 23% said it should not.
7) Should the federal government be involved in the funding for this network in any way?

This is one of those questions where you can guess the answers before you read them. Most people in the industry believe the feds should fund some of this project, especially since the amount it was counting on from the rest of the 700-MHz auction was exceeded by $billions. Perhaps the money raised from the sale of the D block should immediately revert to a fund to help build the network, $2 or $3 billion would certainly help kick-start the project.

The answers to this question break down as follows: 86% said that yes, the feds should be involved in funding the project, while 14% said no they should not. For what it is worth, I side with the yes group here. If FEMA, HSL and the military are to use this spectrum during times of emergency, the federal government needs to pay a share of the cost of the network. These agencies do not ride free on their own networks or on the commercial networks they use today.
The Last Three Questions

The last three questions concern a meeting that would kick off efforts for a consortium of players. It should be held prior to any FCC decision to re-auction the D block and, I believe, the outcome of the meeting or meetings should be carefully considered by the FCC in its new or amended rules for the handling of the D Block re-auction.

8) Would your company or organization want to take part in a meeting to explore consortium options?
I was very encouraged that 82% of those responding to this survey said they wanted to be part of a meeting to explore a consortium option. 18% had no interest in being a party to the meeting. That at least gives me an indication that not everyone who took the survey did so because they agree with the concept of a consortium to solve the D block problem.
9) Would your company or organization consider being one of the sponsors of such a meeting?

I worded this question in this manner because I did not want those responding to think that by answering ‘yes’ they were committing themselves or their companies to a sponsorship, and I chose to offer three answers: yes, no and need more info, because I did not include any information regarding the cost of such a meeting. I don’t think it would be very high, though. It would need a location, perhaps a continental breakfast and break drinks, and if we wanted it to run all day, lunch and afternoon break refreshments, which would have to include a sugar rush for all who needed it in the afternoon.

Still, 15% said yes, while 46% said they would need more information and 39% said no. I am encouraged by this because it sounds as though the meeting could be held and sponsors signed up to defray the costs.
10) Should the FCC be a party to this meeting?
I knew what I thought when I was building the survey—I thought it would be good to have representatives from the FCC at least attend the meeting if not take part. I was pleased to see that 93% of those responding agreed with my view, while 7% did not. I think the meeting or meetings would have a lot more impact on the FCC if it was involved in them from the beginning and not simply notified of the findings or consensus (if there is one) of the meeting.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this COMMENTARY, I am leaving the survey in place in case others want to provide their answers. I don’t think the percentages will change much and I am quite comfortable with results since more than 90% of the respondents provided their names, titles, organization and email contact information. There was one final question in the survey that enabled respondents to provide additional comments.

Link to survey:
Here are a few of the comments:

See [www_fbo_gov] for possible anchor tenant on 700, considering mandate that the provider must eventually cover all interstates and major hwys

This URL takes you to the Fed site where the DOT is asking for information regarding a Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Business Model and, yes, I believe they would be a great anchor tenant. In addition, we have not yet included other first or second responders such as utilities, AAA and its fleet of tow trucks, communications technicians and many more. Had these groups been permitted access to New Orleans, communications capabilities would have been restored in a much shorter period of time, but since they were not deemed first responders, they were kept out, which, in turn, jeopardized the lives of those who were inside trying to rescue others.

Why aren't the 700 MHz Regional Planning Committees involved in this process?

This comment refers to the public safety 700-MHz regional planning committees that have been working hard on 700-MHz allocations for some time now. I believe the correct answer is that they are, or should be, represented by the PSST or should discuss their role in this type of a meeting or meetings with the PSST.

In regards to getting operators to build, some might bid to be able to build it, others might bid to be paid to build it. Rather than have tax credits, why not go about it more directly?

The ideas in my COMMENTARY are not necessarily the right approach to all aspects of this complex project, they were meant as starting points that need to be explored and expanded.

Rural and First Responders continue to be ignored so this seems like a place where utility can win out over simply making money in Urban areas.

I have talked to a number of organizations, including network operators that are in agreement that some of what needs to happen is a giving back to the community. They are willing to do just that, but not alone, shouldering the burden of an expensive network by themselves with no guarantee there will be a return on investment at some point. They seem to favor, and so do I, a way that many different organizations can all do their part and make this network a reality without placing a burden on only one network operator or new entrant.

There were many comments about the fact that perhaps we won’t be able to get anything done until we have a new administration in Washington, and I hope that is not the case. Delaying this for a year does not help solve the problem and I am sure Chairman Martin does not want this to run past the end of his term.

I will never claim that this survey should be considered as the final word in how we should move forward as I am sure there are many other points of view out there. My desire is to get a dialogue going within and among the two industry segments and find a solution to this problem—a solution that is good for the first responder community and also for the commercial operators or a new entrant coming in to try to make a go of it.

Andrew M. Seybold

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