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 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:

Also, two videos have been produced through the assistance of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation ( and Dave Statter ( One is designed to inform members of the American fire service and the other is focused on elected officials and the media. A message to the American fire service can be viewed at>; a message from the American fire service to elected officials and the media is at

Andrew Seybold, CEO and principal analyst of Andrew Seybold Inc., provides a public safety advocacy website and newsletter. He has stepped up throughout the process to be a true public safety advocate and has challenged the FCC by writing rebuttal letters and white papers for the record. The website and newsletter registration can be found at

This is a one-time opportunity to get the necessary spectrum and funding to build an interoperable nationwide broadband wireless network to benefit all of public safety. Now is the time to get fully involved and make this a reality.

CHARLES L. WERNER, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 34-year veteran of the fire service and chief of the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department. He serves on the Virginia Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee, Virginia Secure Commonwealth Panel, National Public Safety Telecommunications Council Governing Board and IAFC Communications Committee. Werner is chair of the IAFC Technology Council, first vice president of the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association and chair of the DHS SAFECOM Executive Committee.

NTIA hosts Vendor-Carrier Meeting with Public Safety

On Sept. 1, two very encouraging meetings were held. First, a Vendor-Carrier Meeting was held at the Department of Commerce in Washington, DC. This meeting was arranged by Anna Gomez, deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for Telecommunications and Information, and facilitated by Aneesh Chopra, assistant to the President and chief technology officer. This was a collaborative meeting that included the White House, Department of Commerce/National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.

Other key officials who participated were Gregory Schaffer, DHS assistant secretary, Cybersecurity and Communications; Phil Weiser of the National Economic Council; Chris Essid, director of the DHS Office of Emergency Communications; Marisa Chun, deputy associate attorney general; Bernard Melekian, director of the COPS Program; Dereck Orr, program manager, Public Safety Communications Standards (PSCS); and several NTIA, Homeland Security and Justice staff members.

In essence, this was a very overdue meeting with and between device vendors, wireless carriers and public safety representatives. This was the first chance for everyone to learn the perspectives of each and discuss near- and long-term opportunities for success. As facilitator, Chopra fostered a thoughtful and meaningful dialogue that encouraged an open discussion. It opened a door of understanding of the possible, to identify the challenges/gaps ahead, but more importantly, the importance of a clear vision forward in order to achieve success for public safety, device vendors and wireless carriers alike.

Doug Onhaizer, director of public safety programs at SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, presented recent results from a discussion on requirements for a public safety broadband network and devices.

Public safety has desired such a meeting for a long time and it proved to be a very positive step toward further discussions to frame what is necessary to build and maintain a nationwide public safety broadband wireless network as well as a successful plan for the design and deployment of the wireless devices for public safety. Public safety representatives for this meeting included Harlin McEwen of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), Chuck Dowd of the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) and Charles L. Werner of the SAFECOM Executive Committee.

The second meeting focused on public safety software and applications for the new public safety broadband network. Mc-Ewen and Chuck Dowd participated, representing public safety.

This type of collaborative spirit is absolutely a positive and necessary element for a successful public safety broadband wireless network.

—Charles L. Werner