FCC rules on responder spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission has adopted an order to promote creation of a nationwide broadband network for public safety in the 700 MHz band of radio spectrum. That spectrum, which currently belongs to television broadcasters, will be auctioned off by the FCC as part of the transition to digital television.

Under the FCC framework, announced July 31, there will be a single license awarded for the national broadband network for public safety. The network, as envisioned, would be built as a partnership between the Public Safety Broadband Licensee and a licensee for one of the commercial radio spectrum blocks. The commercial licensee will build out the network, which will be available on a priority basis to public safety, and secondarily, will be available for commercial uses, the FCC said in its order.

The FCC said it intends to ease interoperability between emergency response agencies with the new network. Many public safety organizations have supported the idea of a national broadband public safety network. Allowing for shared infrastructure for public safety and commercial uses will achieve "significant cost efficiencies while maximizing public safety's access to interoperable broadband spectrum," the FCC said.

The terms of the partnership between the public safety licensee and the commercial licensee will be governed both by FCC rules and by the details of a Network Sharing Agreement to be negotiated by both licensees. The agreement is subject to FCC approval and must contain details on service fees and the build-out schedule for the network.

Frontline Wireless of Greensboro, N.C., which had proposed a similar arrangement to build out a nationwide broadband public safety network, said in a statement that the FCC decision fits its business strategy in general but is still being reviewed for its treatment of open access issues. Open access is a term referring to FCC rules maintaining free network access for many different types and brands of devices.

The Telecommunications Industry Association praised the FCC action, saying that its member companies can now begin developing business strategies around the availability of the spectrum.

"With auction rules finally in place after years of waiting, service providers and high-tech manufacturers alike can make investments within and outside of the auction, securing better networks and services for consumers, more revenue opportunity for companies and funding for key government public safety measures," the association said in a written statement.

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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