FCC accepts build-out advice

The Federal Communications Commission has adopted a build-out schedule recommended by public safety groups in its recent order authorizing a national wireless broadband network for first responders.

The FCC intends to grant a single national license for a broadband network for public safety, which is being created through the public auction of radio spectrum in January 2008.

Under the terms set by the FCC, the auction winner must negotiate with the public safety license holder to allow shared use of the spectrum in the so-called D Block in the 700 Mhz band. The spectrum will be used for commercial purposes, but will be preempted by public safety in emergencies.

Through its 312-page order dated Aug. 10, the FCC has set benchmarks that the D Block auction winner must meet for build-out of the public safety network.

Specifically, signal coverage and service must be available to 75 percent of the population within four years, 95 percent to be covered within seven years and 99.3 percent to be covered within 10 years, the FCC said in its order. The starting date for the schedule is Feb. 17, 2009.

Those deadlines are likely to find favor with first responders, as the same 10-year benchmark initially was proposed by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, an umbrella group for several organizations. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials and other public safety groups also support the deadlines.

"We agree with those commenters who stress that the build-out requirements for the D Block licensee must be stringent and unambiguous," the FCC said in its order. "The requirements that we are adopting are more stringent than those that we are imposing on other 700 MHz commercial licensees and are consistent with our goal of developing a nationwide broadband public safety network. In addition, use of population-based benchmarks is consistent with public safety comments, and ultimately the national interoperable broadband public safety network will be built to serve the public safety needs of over 99 percent of the population."

Moreover, the FCC is allowing communities in some limited situations to create their own broadband networks, if they are dissatisfied with the national network or with their position in the build-out schedule. A number of communities and public safety advocates, as well as contractors, such as Northrop Grumman Corp., had sought flexibility so they could continue to operate independent broadband networks. The association of public safety communications officials has written of the need to preserve local options in areas where the national network may not be deployed for many years.

The FCC, in its order, concluded that participation in the 700 MHz public safety broadband network should be voluntary. Furthermore, while the D Block licensee should have the exclusive right to build and operate the shared wireless broadband network, communities will have a right to build additional local broadband networks in some limited circumstances and subject to various conditions, the FCC said. Similar provisions apply to wideband networks, the order states.

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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