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January 25, 2011

Lawmaker reiterates call to give D-Block to public safety

WASHINGTON — Efforts were stepped up Tuesday toward the development of a nationwide, public safety broadband network.

Legislation reintroduced by Senator John D. Rockefeller, IV, in the U.S Senate would allocate the D-Block in the 700 MHz band of spectrum to public safety to develop a nationwide public safety wireless broadband network.

S. 28, the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, which Sen. Rockefeller, IV, originally introduced last year, would also allocate $11 billion for the construction, maintenance, and operation of the network.

Tim McKone, AT&T executive vice president-federal relations, said, "This legislation will result in a truly interoperable public safety network and will free up new spectrum and establish funding mechanisms to support the operation and maintenance of this critical network."

President Barack Obama seemed to acknowledge the need for responders to gain access to mobile broadband during Tuesday night's State of the Union address, saying, "It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device."

Afterwards, Vonya B. McCann, senior vice president of Government Affairs for Sprint said, "We look forward to working with President Obama, Congress, public safety, and the Federal Communications Commission to bring our nation's first responders the competitive wireless broadband services that consumers are enjoying today."

In addition, the FCC released Tuesday a Third Report and Order and Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) to advance the build-out of "robust, dedicated and secure mobile broadband networks for public safety."

The Order and FNPRM requires all 700 MHz public safety mobile broadband networks to use Long Term Evolution as the common air interface to support roaming and interoperable communications.

It also seeks comment on many of the technical aspects of a public safety broadband network.

These include:

  • The architectural vision of the network
  • Network robustness, resilience and security
  • Roaming and priority access among public safety broadband networks

During an open meeting Tuesday, Fire Chief Jeff Johnson, IAFC President from 2009 to 2010, was appointed chair of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) of the Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) with Deputy Chief Eddie Reyes, City of Alexandria, Va., Police Department.

The center is charged with the development of a technical and operational framework to support and encourage nationwide operability and interoperability in public safety wireless broadband communications.

"I am delighted to be asked to chair the PSAC and look forward to working with Chief Reyes and the other PSAC members to develop a nationwide broadband system that will utilize 21st century technology to protect the public," Chief Johnson said.

Kevin McGinnis, communications technology advisor of the Joint National EMS Leadership Conference, said the White House has "tuned the engine of progress" this week.

"While the trip ahead will still be long and difficult, we can now be pretty confident that we will have the D-Block, and the funding needed to build out a dedicated public safety broadband network of the quality adequate for mission critical communications.

"For EMS, and our patients, it means that we will be able to take advantage of technology needed to improve our situational awareness, diagnostics, and treatment capabilities. These in turn will reduce time in time-critical patient situations and improve our medical decision-making to better match patient needs and medical and transport resources."

He added EMS can become the largest user of this broadband commodity, particularly in rural areas where video may be more used.

"It is now up to EMS leaders on local, state, and regional levels to get to the table first with the operational and medical apps they want to implement and take advantage of the money and bandwidth that will rapidly deplete as the nationwide public safety network builds its subscriber base," he said.


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