WASHINGTON — The federal government has agreed to establish a public safety broadband network for emergency first responders and provide funding for next-generation 911 technologies.
The initiatives were included by Congress last month in a stimulus bill that extends the federal payroll-tax reduction and unemployment benefits. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will auction frequency spectrum to help fund the stimulus plan and develop the network with the remaining 10MHz, or D Block, from the 700MHz spectrum auction. The D Block (758-763 and 788-793MHz) was initially slated for auction to commercial wireless carriers, but the minimum bid wasn’t met.
The battle to create a public safety broadband network has been waged for more than six years. At times the efforts appeared destined to fail as political wrangling threatened to derail funding.
“We are extremely happy that this has finally happened,” says Lou Fiore, chairman of the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC). “[First responders] are our partners. It will obviously benefit their dispatching efforts, which will in turn give our industry side benefits.”
AICC has previously been in discussions for the potential to one day utilize a small portion of the D-Block spectrum for the industry’s alarm communications. Those talks became even more significant when last year the FCC announced the nation’s wireless public safety network would rely on LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology. LTE would replace the web of disparate radio frequencies that often thwart communication between police, fire and EMS during incident response.
“If we do in fact get to use their network it would give us stability. There is always turmoil with sunsets: 2G is going to 3G is going to 4G,” says Fiore. “Hopefully that would put an end to it for a long while. Then at least we would not have AT&T or Verizon or T-Mobile directing our fate.”
Obama administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, met with high-ranking police and fire leaders in February at the White House to discuss the network. Police chiefs and sergeants from the New York Police Department and National Association of Police Organization (NAPO) attended the meeting.
In a White House statement, Biden said the plan would “enable new spectrum to be used for innovation, to speed wireless communication, and to fulfill a promise made to first responders after 9/11 that they would have the technology they need to stay safe and do their jobs.”
The network would be governed through an independent board under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The $7 billion that will be used to fund the build-out of the network will come from proceeds of spectrum auctions. Public safety officials agreed to eventually give back spectrum in the 470-512MHz, or T-Band, range. These channels will be cleared on an 11-year timetable. The feds have agreed to cover the cost to relocate these licensees.
Groups such as the APCO Int’l that have advocated for the assigning of the D Block for the public safety network cheered the announcement.
“APCO Int’l thanks our congressional supporters on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress for their dedication to responsibly achieving the build-out of a public safety broadband network and in supporting next-generation 911 technologies,” says Gregg Riddle, the group’s president. “We pledge our full cooperation in the implementation of this legislation for the betterment of our nation’s security.”