Broadband for Public Safety

  On March 16, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the National Broadband Plan (NBP). This launched a new chapter in the ongoing saga of the public safety community's attempt to achieve a nationwide broadband wireless...


  On March 16, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the National Broadband Plan (NBP). This launched a new chapter in the ongoing saga of the public safety community's attempt to achieve a nationwide broadband wireless network for emergency responders. Leading up...


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On March 16, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the National Broadband Plan (NBP). This launched a new chapter in the ongoing saga of the public safety community's attempt to achieve a nationwide broadband wireless network for emergency responders.

Leading up to this announcement, national organizations representing fire chiefs, police chiefs and emergency medical responders understood that the FCC had intended to come out with a set of recommendations rather than a single recommendation. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, the Public Safety Section of the NBP (Chapter 16) announced that the broadband spectrum, known as the "D" Block, was recommended for auction with significantly fewer public safety requirements than the previous auction. This caused great concern among the public safety community.

While it is true that the FCC met rigorously with public safety representatives about the "D" Block, the input had little effect and the original proposal stayed much as it was originally released. The Public Safety Section argued that based on a model submitted by New York City and industry video trending, only 10 MHz of broadband spectrum would be inadequate for public safety operations. The NBP also lacked the ability to establish guaranteed access for public safety agencies during times of emergency. This is unacceptable to public safety interests and does not meet the rigors of a mission-critical communications system.

The NBP also proposed that "roaming" on other networks would be necessary, but failed to identify how this would be accomplished and the costs associated with this roaming arrangement. Some wireless carriers indicated that if such a requirement is imposed on them, it would likely be challenged in court. Lastly, the NBP also offered a proposal to impose a fee on all broadband users nationwide to provide funding to build the network. Unfortunately, Congress did not seem to agree with this funding model.

In summary, the NBP falls short on spectrum for public safety, has not answered the questions of priority access or roaming, and could not deliver on the funding proposals.

In November 2009, the national public safety organizations — the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs Association, Association of Public Safety Communications Officers International, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriff's Association, Metro Fire Chiefs Association, National Emergency Managers Association and National Association of State EMS Officers — took a stand to say that auctioning the "D" Block was unacceptable. In 2010, this group formally organized into the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) to focus on legislation that would allocate the "D" Block to public safety and provide funds to build an interoperable public safety nationwide broadband wireless network.

Since then, Congressman Peter King (R-New York) stepped up with legislation (H.R. 5081) that allocates the "D" Block to public safety. The list of co-sponsors continues to quickly soar with more signing on every week. On July 21, 2010, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and John McCain (R-Arizona) provided draft legislation in support of allocating the "D" Block to public safety. On the same day, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, announced that he planned to release legislation to allocate the "D" Block to public safety and provide funds to build it. Following that announcement, Rockefeller released legislation (S. 3756) that allocates the "D" Block to public safety and funding to build a nationwide public safety broadband wireless network.

Call to Action

The next part of this column is focused on a call to action and to ask that you get involved by contacting your members of Congress, other elected officials and the media. Here is a link that will provide you with advocacy tools and instructions from the Public Safety Alliance: http://psafirst.org/uploads/documents/PSA_Call_to_Action_8-19-2010.pdf

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