Call to Action: Broadband for Public Safety Responders

Sept. 2, 2010
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 public safety's attempt to achieve a nationwide broadband wireless network for emergency responders.

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 public safety'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 announced that the broadband spectrum known as the "D Block" was recommended for auction with significantly less public safety requirements than the previous auction. This caused great concern by the public safety community.

While it is true that the FCC met rigorously with public safety about the "D Block," the input had little effect and the original proposal stayed pretty much as it was originally released. The group argued that, based on a model submitted by New York City and industry video trending, that only 10MHz of broadband spectrum would be inadequate for public safety operations. The NBP also lacked the ability to establish guaranteed access for public safety during times of emergency.

This is unacceptable to public safety users 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 of the wireless carriers indicated that such a requirement imposed on them 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 (International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs Association, Association of Public Safety Communications Officers International, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriff's Association, the Metro Fire Chiefs Association, the National Emergency Managers Association and the 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 will 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 stepped up with legislation (H.R. 5081) that allocates the "D Block" to public safety. The list of co-sponsors began and continues to quickly soar with more signing on every week. On July 21, 2010, Senators Joesph Lieberman and John McCain provided draft legislation also in support of allocating the "D Block" to responders. On the same day, Senator John D. (Jay) Rockerfeller IV (Chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee), announced that he planned to release legislation to allocate the "D Block" to public safety and to provide funds to build it. Following that announcement Senator Rockefeller released legislation (S. 3756) that allocates the "D Block" to public safety users and funding to build a nationwide public safety broadband wireless network.

Call To Action

The next part of this article is focused on a Call to Action, and to ask that you get involved by contacting your members of Congress, elected officials and the media. In the words of Chief Kelvin Cochran, its time for everyone to get "Fully Involved." Here is a link that will provide you with advocacy tools and instructions from the Public Safety Alliance:


Below there are two videos that 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 legislators, elected officials and the media.  

Andrew Seybold has stepped up throughout the process to be a true public safety advocate and has challenged the FCC by writing rebuttal letters and whitepapers for the record. Currently, he provides a public safety advocacy website and newsletter. The website and newsletter registration can be found at:

To all, this is a one-time opportunity to get the necessary spectrum and funding to build an interoperable nationwide public safety broadband wireless wireless network to benefit all of public safety. Now is the time that you get "Fully Involved" and make this a reality!

CHARLES WERNER, a Contributing Editor, is a 30-year veteran of the fire service and is Fire Chief with the City of Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department. Charles was instrumental in the original development and launch of and serves the IAFC as a member of the Communications Committee and Homeland Security Council. Chief Werner is a technology advocate for the fire service and he actively promotes technology and challenges fire departments and vendors to 'raise the bar' when it comes to technology. You can contact Charles by e-mail at: [email protected].

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