The Washington Post reports on former Nextel executive Morgan O’Brien’s attempts to create a new communications network for police and firefighters. O’Brien founded a small firm, Cyren Call, as part of a plan to set aside a huge heap of airwaves for public safety. Cyren Call would make money by helping to oversee construction of the network. Those same airwaves — also coveted by the nation’s wireless carriers — will be auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission in January.
O’Brien asked Congress to set aside those airwaves, which are about to be vacated by television broadcasters, but was shot down. The FCC, expected to raise $15 billion from the auction of the spectrum, also dismissed his proposal. But that hasn’t stopped O’Brien from intensely lobbying FCC officials and public safety leaders. He became sympathetic to the plight of police chiefs and firefighters in 2003, when Nextel’s signals began to interfere with their radios and walkie-talkies. He learned that first responders relied on a patchwork of outdated networks that don’t overlap or communicate with one another. “You literally have people standing next to each other in a burning building who can’t talk to each other because their devices aren’t compatible,” he said. “An average teenager has access to a wireless device that has far more capacity than any public safety responder in this country. That’s absurd.”