The National Broadband Plan lays out an ambitious plan for building an interoperable broadband public safety network for the nation's first responders. However, some public safety experts are wondering if the plan goes far enough in giving police, fire, and EMS agencies what they need to respond adequately to emergencies. Under debate is the amount of spectrum the FCC is giving the public safety community.
In May, 2010, twenty-one jurisdictions were given permission by the FCC to use the 700MHz band of spectrum for building interoperable public safety networks. Public safety officials are calling for the FCC to allocate even more spectrum, solely for public safety use. A prime slice of spectrum, called the "D Block," failed to garner much interest in a 2008 auction conducted by the FCC. The auction sought bidders from the wireless industry who could use the spectrum for commercial purposes, but required them to build a robust communications network that would be shared with first responders. Public safety agencies would be given priority network access.
Late last week, a Senate bill introduced by Senators Lieberman and McCain, reallocated the D Block to public safety - without a commercial auction. The First Responders Protection Act of 2010 directs the federal government to use $11 billion in revenue from the auction of a different block of spectrum to raise the revenue which would have been generated by a commercial auction. $5.5 billion would be used for the construction of towers, transmission facilities, and equipment for the new public safety network, and another $5.5 billion would be used for maintenance and operational costs.
Senator McCain stated his reasons for introducing the bill. "As we approach the nine year commemoration of the horrific events on September 11th and the five year remembrance of the devastating tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, it is disgraceful that police officers, sheriffs and fire fighters still don't have a nationwide interoperable communications system. Our legislation provides the spectrum and funding to first responders, while being fiscally responsible and ensuring local control and conscientious governance."
With the McCain-Lieberman bill suggesting a different approach than the FCC's National Broadband Plan, the only thing both agree upon is that the timing is right for building a robust first responder broadband network. The bill has the support of most major public safety organizations, and the National Governors Association.Image © Getty Images