Fire Technology: D Block: The Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network

For more than six years, I have been writing articles and columns to inform you about the concept of a nationwide public safety broadband wireless network. On numerous occasions, I have asked the readers of Firehouse® Magazine and Firehouse.com to...


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In early March 2010, the FCC released its National Broadband Plan, which required the auction of the D Block. On March 19, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) convened a meeting (the PERF Conference on Broadband Spectrum) of public safety thought leaders from across the country to discuss the importance of a nationwide public safety broadband wireless network, the need for control of the network and D Block reallocation to public safety. At this meeting, there was a consensus from all present that the FCC’s National Broadband Plan was unacceptable and moved this issue to Congress.

In September 2010, another key meeting was hosted by the Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and the Obama Administration in Reston, VA. This was the first meeting where representatives from public safety, commercial wireless companies, broadband device manufacturers and federal agencies discussed the concept of a public-private partnership regarding the network, device development and network control. This was one of the most important gatherings on the issue because it enhanced everyone’s understanding of the issues from each group’s perspective and operational needs.

 

The path to unity

On March 15, 2011, the PSA held its most important meeting – the one that established the path forward to seek public safety unity and develop a strategy for reallocation of the D Block and funding for a nationwide network. Over the next nine months, there were numerous trips by public safety leaders to Washington, meetings with members of Congress, grassroots legislative activities, articles written and press conferences. By mid-2011, public safety had become solid and the support became even more significant when the “Big 7” national state and local organizations – National Governors Association, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, Council of State Governments, International City/County Managers Association and National Conference of State Legislatures – joined with their support.

Legislatively, the two most significant initial bills introduced were H.R. 607 introduced by Representative Peter King (R-New York) and S.911 by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). The first members of Congress to support the nationwide public safety broadband network with reallocation of the D Block to public safety through legislative bills were King, Rockefeller, Hutchison and Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut). This was a bipartisan effort in both houses of Congress with the support of President Obama.

It is also worth acknowledging some very key people. Vice President Joe Biden took ownership and a leadership role very early in the legislative process and was involved throughout. Other administrative leaders to be acknowledged during the legislative process are Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland (DHS) Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. White House staff members who played a key role included Terrell McSweeny, Phil Weiser and Aneesh Chopra; and Greg Schaffer, DHS assistant secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications; Anna Gomez, deputy assistant secretary for communications and information, Commerce Department, and NTIA deputy administrator; Chris Essid, director of the DHS Office of Emergency Communications; and Dereck Orr, manager of the Commerce Department’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program.

 

What’s next?

Included in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, H.R. 3630, is a provision to allocate 10 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz bandwidth (known as the D Block) to public safety for the creation of a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.

The D Block is adjacent to 10 MHz of spectrum currently allocated to public safety, allowing for the creation of the nationwide broadband network on 20 MHz of contiguous spectrum. The bill also provides $7 billion for construction of the network and a nationwide governance (First Responder Network Authority) model that will be overseen by the NTIA.

In addition, the legislation advances next-generation 911 services by providing $115 million in grants to upgrade 911 infrastructure to technologies that will make it possible for Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to receive not only voice 911 calls, but text, video, data and images. The 911 grants can be used for the implementation and operation of 911, E911, migration to Internet Protocol (IP)-enabled emergency networks, adoption and operation of next-generation 911 services and training of public safety communications personnel.