Vice President Biden recently met with law enforcement officials, firefighters and public safety groups on a conference call to express gratitude for their service and to announce the President's plan to build a new nationwide public-safety broadband network. Legislation to build and fund the public safety network was included in the Payroll Tax Extension passed by Congress and signed by the President.
The successful version of the bill reconciled issues with funding, governance, and federal oversight of the network
The Obama administration has been consistent in its support of this initiative by continuing to advance the federal broadband public safety goals, first in the FCC's National Broadband Plan, then by pledging support of allocating the D-Block to public safety, and pledging funds to build and support the network in various pieces of legislation introduced over the past several years - including the President’s 2012 Budget.
It isn’t difficult to understand how public safety fell so far behind the innovation curve. Some have said that a teenager with a smartphone can do more than the average police officer or firefighter with a radio can in the field. Application developers and device manufacturers are driven to develop better and more powerful applications because of the sheer number of user devices in production. By comparison, the public safety user population is much smaller, driving costs of individual devices higher, and limiting application development.
According to Vice President Biden, expanded broadband access for public safety “will 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.”
“I’ve been working on changing the way we allocate spectrum for a long time,” Vice President Biden said, “because a smarter system is good for our economy, good for innovation, and vital to keeping our communities as well as our cops, firefighters and EMTs safe.”
The effort has not been an easy path for public safety supporters who emphasized the importance of an interoperable public safety network after the events of 9/11. As the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks passed, the crusade to build the network picked up steam as one critical issue was understood by all – having an interoperable public safety network on 9/11 would have saved lives back in 2001. In the months and years that followed 9/11, many other benefits of using broadband technology for a national public safety network emerged.
Road to Success Has Been a Long and Arduous Journey
Some of the ideas already developed into working public safety applications include:
• License plate readers enabling law enforcement to capture the image of a license on a smart phone to quickly determine if the car is stolen, and who the registered owner is.
• Fingerprint identification
• Facial Recognition
• Scars, Marks, and Tattoos Identification,
• Field Interview Cards
• Crowd Sourcing and Interactive Maps
• Local, State, and Federal Data
• Child Abduction Leads Tracking
• Multi-vital sign patient data transmission and access to patient history
• GPS enabled traffic control application
President Obama also highlighted additional applications in his State of the State address in early 2011.
To date, 20 jurisdictions hold waivers to build public safety networks in the 700 MHz band of spectrum, five have received NTIA grants to build a network, and the FCC is considering granting additional waivers to other jurisdictions.