A report released this month from the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) estimates that over 100,000 jobs would be created as a result of building a broadband public safety network. Beyond the importance to the safety of our nation, the funding and construction of a 20 MHz Public Safety Broadband Network would result in approximately “100,000 good-paying technology jobs, averaging a $70,000 salary per job,” as well as provide savings to state and local taxpayers of nearly $2 billion per year.
While the public safety benefits have been discussed for some time, the recent TIA report, entitled, “The Contributions of Information and Communication Technologies To American Growth, Productivity, Jobs and Prosperity,” shows the significant economic benefits of constructing the network.
Beyond the 100,000 jobs the network would directly create, the TIA report suggests additional “indirect or spillover benefits of an estimated $4 billion to $8 billion per year” to the economy. It also estimates the network would reduce costs to state and local law enforcement by increasing “the productivity of police and fire agencies by at least 1 percentage point per year, producing direct efficiency savings of nearly $2 billion per year.”
In addition, the indirect economic benefits of the network could mean another $2 billion to $6 billion nationwide.
There is universal agreement between public safety agencies, the FCC, and the Obama Administration on the demonstrable need for an interoperable public safety network to address a number of shortcomings with the current land mobile radio (LMR) communication network. The public safety community currently uses different systems to communicate with each other, which cannot be used to communicate with other public safety agencies. Police officers cannot speak directly to firemen; paramedics are unable to communicate with the police or the fire department. In addition, the innovative applications which drive consumer demand for IPhones are not available to the users who are responsible for saving lives.
Broadband for public safety has been gaining momentum since the FCC granted 700 MHz waivers to 21 jurisdictions to begin deployment of an interoperable public safety broadband network in 2009. The waiver approval only enables these jurisdictions to use the 700MHz frequency for building and using an interoperable network. Funding to date has only been provided through a special application funding window during the ARRA BTOP program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
There have been a number of bills introduced in Congress which provide resolution to all of the issues listed above. The Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011 introduced by Senators McCain and Lieberman direct the FCC to re-allocate the D-Block to public safety and include funding for the construction and operation of the network. Senator Jay Rockefeller also introduced legislation entitled “The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act of 2011” (S.28), which has garnered the support of many public safety organizations. Although there was momentum to get the Rockefeller passed by the tenth anniversary of 9/11 the legislation never went to a vote, most likely due to protracted debates about the federal debt ceiling and the economy.
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.
So what lies ahead for actually building the network? The Obama administration has been very supportive of this initiative by continuing to advance the President’s broadband public safety goals, pledging support of allocating the D-Block to public safety, and pledging funds to build and support the network in the President’s 2012 Budget.
More recently, the President introduced the “American Jobs Act of 2011,” which includes many of the components contained in Senate Bill 911, the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act on September 8, 2011. This comprehensive legislative package contains policy and funding for building a broadband public safety network. According to the White House, "The plan follows the model in the bipartisan legislation from Senators Rockefeller and Hutchison in including an investment to develop and deploy a nationwide, interoperable wireless network for public safety. The plan includes reallocating the D Block for public safety (costing $3 billion) and $7 billion to support the deployment of this network and technological development to tailor the network to meet public safety requirements." With the future status of the bill undecided due to the political climate in Washington, the future of a national broadband public safety network will remain unclear – leaving many jurisdictions without a clear strategy to forge ahead.