Date of Original Version
36th Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, Sept. 2008
Abstract or Table of Contents
The problems facing the public safety wireless communication systems in the US could be significantly reduced or eliminated through the deployment of a single nationwide network that serves all public safety personnel. Two major efforts towards such a nationwide network are the Integrated Wireless Network (IWN), a program only for federal emergency responders, and an effort by the FCC to create a public-private partnership in the 700MHz band that serves state and local emergency responders; the future of both projects is uncertain due in part to concerns surrounding cost. To inform these concerns, this paper presents the first version of a fully transparent model to estimate cost for two fundamental approaches: a public-safety-only network and a public-private partnership which serves both public safety and commercial subscribers. We apply this general model to four scenarios: 1. a public-safety-only network that only serves all public safety personnel (i.e. local, state, and federal) on 10MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band, 2. a public-private partnership that serves all public safety personnel and commercial subscribers on 20MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band, and 3&4. a network that only serves all public safety personnel in either of the two bands that may be used for the federal-only IWN project (168MHz & 414MHz). In each of these scenarios, we consider networks that carry voice only, data only, and both voice and data. We demonstrate the inefficiencies of the existing public safety infrastructure by showing that a single nationwide network could be built in its place with a small fraction of the tower sites and spectrum. In fact, the cost of building an entire nationwide system is comparable to what is likely to be spent in just a few years on the existing infrastructure. More specifically, for the public-private partnership carrying voice and data, we found deployment costs on the order of $10 billion which is less than the $15 – 20 billion previously estimated. For the public-safety-only network carrying voice and data at 168MHz, we found deployment costs on the order of $6 billion. Thus, if sufficient spectrum can be identified, the current IWN system could be extended to include state and local responders and provide broadband data without a significant increase in cost. In addition, these cost estimates are highly dependent on some key parameters, such as those related to capacity and coverage reliability, over which there has been little serious debate. If a public-private partnership is to be successful, values must be established for such parameters before bids are sought. Otherwise, potential bidders cannot even roughly estimate their costs. Additionally, we find that 83% of US area is currently covered by existing public safety wireless systems, whereas some claim the population build-out requirement established by the FCC would cover just 63% of the US, and the actual coverage is more likely to be roughly 50%. We also show that the estimated cost savings from relaxing the existing build-out requirements are overstated.