Experts Present Update on Broadband for Public Safety

A panel at Fire-Rescue International this week discussed the history of public safety’s fight for broadband, the reasons why it is imperative and a timeline for the next steps in making it a reality.

The panel included Chief R. David Paulison, former U.S. fire administrator; Chief Jeff Johnson, past president of the IAFC; Greg Riddle, president of APCO International; and Stu Overby, Senior Director of Spectrum Strategy at Motorola Solutions.

Legislation was passed in Feb. 2012 to allocate the 700 mhz “D Block” to public safety. The legislation allocated $7B to build the network and designated governance for the network, by a new entity called FirstNet (the First Responder Network Authority.) The board is to be appointed by Aug. 20 and is in the process of being selected now.

Why Broadband?

Paulison highlighted the essentiality of broadband for high speed data and quality video transmission. Narrowband compared to broadband is “like a garden hose vs. a two and a half inch handline,” he said.

“What it’s really going to give us is data where we simply couldn’t access it before,” Paulison said, which will increase situational awareness. It will, for example, allow firefighters to see the “5 sides” of a fire, he said.

Paulison recalled a fire he was watching on television news, which allowed him to see information that the incident commander could not – and that firefighters on scene were about to make a trench cut in the wrong place. He called in, and they changed tactics as a result of his input. With broadband, the IC could have seen such video firsthand.

Paulison added examples for using broadband, such as for biometric firefighter monitoring, for transmission of building layouts and information about hazardous materials within, and for conference calling with subject matter experts and allowing them to see what you are seeing on the scene.

He also spoke of the potential for EMS - for responders to access patient records on scene, and transmit real-time video and vital signs of patients back to doctors and specialists, with the possibility of making faster treatment plans and sometimes avoiding the need to wait for doctors or surgeons to make assessments on scene.

“These are the things that I see in the future,” Paulison said. “This folks, to me, is the future of the fire service… I think it’s time for us to get on board and bring ourselves into the twenty-first century.”

Johnson also noted that once this system is in place, new technology is certain to follow to take better advantage of the capabilities. “Innovation is going to flood our area and revolutionize our industry,” he said. “This is the most monumental change to our industry that we’re going to see in our lifetime.”


The panel explained that funding will come from the auction of additional spectrum. To start, FirstNet will be able to borrow 2 of the 7B that is expected to be raised from the government and then repay it from the auction once that money becomes available. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will determine funding for each state and there will be a 20 percent matching requirement. There will also be 135M for state and local planning, and some funding for NG911, E911 and 911… though these things will be funded in order of priority and it’s possible that some things won’t get funded.

About FirstNet

FirstNet will be independent within NTIA and will be comprised of 15 people who must meet various geographical and public safety background requirements, Johnson said. Then they must appoint an advisory committee.

The group’s responsibilities will be to hold the license for the spectrum, manage the funding, oversee the design and building of the system, deploy and operate it, and handle any opt-outs. (States will automatically be included in the planning but governors will have the opportunity to opt out.)

FirstNet will consult with a person or group appointed by each state, which will then drive planning through the rest of the state.

FirstNet is due to report to Congress for the first time in Feb. 2013.

Early deployment update

Twenty jurisdictions had been approved and 28 were pending approval for early broadband deployment, but just on July 31 the FCC cancelled these authorizations. However, there is a mechanism for those that already meet certain criteria to request new authorization. The panel did not have additional details about why and how since this was a new announcement.


The T-Band used by public safety today in the top 11 U.S. metro areas is to be reallocated and auctioned off in Feb 2021, and complete relocation of public safety off of it is due within two years after that. The auction proceeds will go toward relocation costs. The officials advise that if you use T-Band, you should join the NPSTC T-Band Working Group by contacting Barry Luke at

The panel agreed that while all of the next steps are speculative, the timeframe does appear reasonable at this point, and agencies should be ready to work with their state officials and prepare for change.