Reed Hundt’s new wireless ‘Frontier’

Former FCC chairman Reed Hundt is part of a team looking to build a new national public-safety wireless network, which they say would be combined with a open-access, commercial 4G offering that would offer wholesale services to carrier customers.

While similar in theory to the idea floated by Morgan O’Brien and Cyren Call, the Hundt operation, called Frontline Wireless, differs by not asking for a spectrum grant, something that would require an act of Congress and could stall the proposed 700MHz DTV spectrum auctions.

Instead, Hundt says Frontline wants the FCC to set apart some additional spectrum as reserved for open access with a public-safety priority, meaning that whoever purchases that slice at auction –whether it’s Frontline or not — must agree to such terms.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Hundt said that Frontline’s plan was a response to the FCC’s latest public request for ideas on how to build a national, public-safety network with a commercial component. “We have stepped up and responded [to the FCC], and I don’t know if anyone else has,” said Hundt of Frontline, which formally announced its plans Monday.

The public-private idea behind building a national public safety net seems to be gaining momentum, especially since Congress seems to have no taste for appropriating the billions necessary to build such a beast from the ground up. Hundt, who helped popularize spectrum auctions during his tenure atop the FCC, says Frontline’s plan (unlike Cyren Call’s) does nothing to stall the planned auctions. “It’s just a sort of zoning request, which can be done with the stroke of a pen by the FCC,” Hundt said.

The proposed Frontline change, part of which requests an additional 10 MHz of spectrum, also requires the operator to abide by “open access” principles, which Hundt calls a sort of open source software version of networking that could promote innovation in the wireless space. Frontline also wants the spectrum to make services available to rural and municipal customers, who might be bypassed by commercial next-gen buildouts.

“The idea is to have networks that anyone could automatically connect to,” said Hundt, who is being joined in the Frontline effort by telecom and policy veterans Janice Obuchowski and Haynes Griffin. “The three of us have an active interest in solving the problem [of public safety communications] and creating value, and this is what we came up with.”

While Hundt is being coy about some of Frontline’s details — there is no information on its investors, save for a quote from “early investor” Ram Shriram from Sherpalo Ventures — he says Frontline expects to “bid and win” in the spectrum auctions. The early buzz from D.C. types is that Frontline’s bid has credibility, and with Republican Obuchowski (who was once seen as a possible challenger to Martin’s eventual selection as FCC chairman) and Democrat Hundt, it has bipartisan support embedded into its management.