Today the FCC dismissed
the Petition for Rulemaking filed by Cyren Call to give Cyren Call 30 MHz of spectrum for free.
Technically, of course, Cyren Call was promising a whole bunch of other stuff as well. You can see their official website here.
Briefly, as most folks reading this know, Congress finally set a hard date for broadcasters to finish the digital conversion. This will clear 60 MHz of broadcast spectrum. Congress ordered the FCC to set aside 24 MHz of this for a national public safety band, and auction the remaining 36 MHz. Because broadcast spectrum has very good propogation properties, everyone expects this 36 MHz of spectrum to produce even more money at auction than the recent AWs auction.
Cyren Call proposed that the FCC should reallocate 30 MHz of the 36 MHz set aside for commercial spectrum to a single licensee, to be called the “Public Safety Broadband Trust.” The PSBT will build a national wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety use.
Of course, public safety entities alone could not possible hope to bear the cost of building such a network. So a third party — such as Cyren Call — would offer to lend a hand. In exchange for constructing and managing the network, Cyren Call would lease space on the network for commercial users.
What a bargain! The government gets a tax-free public safety network, and puts all that empty spectrum into productive use. And without any of the messiness of auctions or competition! Are those guys at Cyren civic minded or what?
Frequent readers will no doubt recognize this as a classic “magic bean” scam. Cyren Call offers the public safety community these great magic beans in exchange for all this wortheless spectrum. But, since this isn't a fairy tale, the “magic beans” do not grow up to a pot of gold on some cloud. Instead, the public gets a few scrawny bean plants while Cyren Call runs off with the spectrum cash cow.
We can get interoperability far more cheaply and efficeintly using smart radios, promoting open source software, open standard wireless technologies, and more open (.i.e., unlicensed) spectrum. Even without more unlicensed spectrum, it is hard to see how Cyren's proposed national band does more than the 26 MHz already set aside for public safety. Cyren's application contains much hand waving on this point, with paens of praise for the nobility of public safety and the money that could finance the network Cyren proposes to build (one almost expects to hear the authors of the Petition break into the America the Beautiful or some such as you read along). Unfortunately, like most flashy scams, it provides little substance to actually back up its promises.
Happily, like Odysseus of old, the FCC had a healthy dose of wax handy with which to clog the regulatory ears. While I'm not generally a fan of such maneuvers, it seems like the right result here. The FCC's freshly minted Public Safety and Homeland Security Brueau noted that Congress has addressed the distribution of the returned broadcast spectrum by statute and that the FCC therefore has no authority to reallocate the 30 MHz Congress told it to auction to Cyren –I mean, to the “Public Safety Broadband Trust.”
No doubt Cyren will attempt to sing its song again on Capitol Hill, possibly trying to get something slipped into the appropriations bills the “lame duck” Congress must pass after elections. Cyren would not have to get its full plan approved — which would wipe out a couple of billion in booked auction value for 2008. All Cyren would need to do is get something in that would give the FCC authority to examine the allocation and grant Cyren's proposal if it determines that the allocation and creation of the PSBT would serve the public interest. That would shift the ball back to the FCC and keep Cyren's proposal alive.
But Cyren faces the loud, nasty harpies of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) (which opposed Cyren at the FCC) and the incumbent wireless providers (e.g. Cingular, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint/Nextel). These incumbent wireless harpies can screech pretty loud when they want to, and they don't give up easily. While no one can accuse me of being slow to criticize the incumbents when necessary, I also recognize when they happen to come out on the right side of things (albeit for their own reasons). In this particular over-extended metaphor, I think the incumbent harpies make a better case for the public interest than the Cyren Call.