FCC public safety network plan found wanting

The Federal Communication Commission's recent proposal to create a nationwide broadband public safety network falls short because it does not allocate enough radio spectrum to the new network, according to a national public safety organization.

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council wrote to the FCC in a comment letter that deployment of such a network is essential in meeting the future needs of public safety communications, but the council asserted the FCC's plan does not offer enough spectrum to fulfill that goal. The umbrella group comprises more than a dozen major organizations and represents police and fire chiefs, emergency managers, 911 center officials and others.

The 12 MHz of radio spectrum the FCC proposed for the broadband network in its Dec. 20, 2006, Ninth Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is not adequate to allow the network to provide universal access and data sharing and to protect mission-critical voice capabilities from interference, the council wrote.

"We do not believe these attributes can be realized if public safety is limited to the 12 MHz," the council wrote.

The FCC on Dec. 20 adopted a plan to promote deployment of the advanced broadband network for public safety within the 700 MHz band with an Internet protocol-based system architecture.

Under the proposal, the FCC would allocate 12 MHz of the 700 MHz public safety spectrum to broadband use and assign it to a single national public safety broadband license. Public comments were due today.

The FCC initiated its proposal following its decision in November not to open an official proceeding on a previous proposal referred to as the Cyren Call public safety wireless communications plan, advanced by Cyren Call Communications Corp. of McLean, Va. The commission denied Cyren's request for a proceeding, although it did release the proposal for public comment.

Under the Cyren Call plan, there would be established a public trust for a nationwide broadband public safety network utilizing 30 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. Cyren Call is supported by many police, fire and emergency agencies but it is controversial because Congress previously ordered the FCC to auction off the 30 MHz of spectrum for commercial use.

Meanwhile, with Cyren Call expected to go before Congress for legislative approval, support has increased for some type of a nationwide broadband network for public safety.

"It has become increasingly apparent to NPSTC that deployment of a nationwide public safety broadband network is enormously important for emergency responders at all levels of government: local, state and federal. It will be an essential tool for addressing the expanded domestic defense and emergency response obligations of all public safety agencies," wrote the public safety telecommunications council in its comments submitted to the FCC.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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