Federal Communications Commission

Creating Choices, Flexibility and Real Solutions for America’s First Responders

March 2nd, 2010 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Working to Vastly Improve Public Safety Communications with a Wireless, Interoperable Broadband Network across the Nation

Past Experience Brings Home the Need

Our first responders deal with emergencies everyday, and on some days, those emergencies are truly disasters that test the limits of our systems and beyond.

These kinds of emergencies and disasters clearly demonstrate the importance of reliable, robust and interoperable communications for America’s first responders, based on the most advanced wireless broadband technology possible.

On Thursday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and I publicly rolled out highlights of the public safety goals and recommendations of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan (the Plan). A major set of recommendations is related to the creation of a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network for public safety.

Maximizing Public Safety’s Choices and Flexibility

The FCC completed a thorough and exhaustive process that explored all of the options and developed a plan that is fact-based and data driven. With this in mind, the Plan offers a framework for ensuring a nationwide level of interoperability from the start and incredible flexibility and choice to public safety that we believe will lead to real solutions for America’s first responders. The following are highlights of the Plan’s recommendations:

  • Creates a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network for public safety. The network will be interoperable across America: in the big cities, the suburbs and to the rural counties;
  • Maps out a path forward to build out a network for public safety in a cost-efficient way, hand-in-hand with commercial entities.
  • Gives public safety choices, flexibility and control on how they would like to deploy and operate their 700 MHz broadband networks in coordination with commercial entities;
  • Expands and enhances public safety’s access to the entire swath of the commercial 700 MHz band of spectrum, totaling 80 MHz. (Note: this provides a quantum leap in resiliency. If one network fails, public safety has at least one back up and maybe more!).
  • Enables public safety to obtain priority access service on commercial spectrum at reasonable cost when spectrum is needed most. (Note: this isn’t your dad’s priority access, but a dynamic broadband priority access).
  • Provides opportunities for roaming on commercial spectrum at reasonable rates for public safety, creating options for accessing additional spectrum.
  • Ensures public safety’s access to cutting-edge technology, including devices, at consumer electronic prices.


How to Make This All Work

The Plan recognizes the critical need for public funding to build out the network and support upgrades and operations.  The recommended plan would auction the D-block spectrum and expand opportunities to utilize more spectrum for public safety and better leverage commercial resources. This is why it is necessary that we have a funding mechanism in place to support the nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network for public safety in concert with commercial networks and resources. The Plan will recommend that there be two public funding streams over ten years: approximately $6.5 billion would fund the construction of the public safety broadband network and approximately an additional $6 to $10 billion would be dedicated to operating and upgrading the public safety network. This will better enable public safety to expand upon commercial deployments and obtain the level of coverage they need. The end result will be an advanced, widely available, and robust wireless broadband network for the Nation’s first responders.

Finally, the Plan would create an Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC). ERIC’s mission would be to establish a technical and operational framework that will ensure nationwide operability and interoperability from the outset in deployment and operation of the 700 MHz public safety broadband wireless network.

As broadband standards and technology evolve, ERIC will:

  • Adopt technical and operational requirements and procedures for ensuring a nationwide level of interoperability;
  • Adopt and implement other enforceable technical and operational requirements and procedures to address, at a minimum, operability, roaming, priority access, gateway functions and interfaces, and interconnectivity of public safety broadband wireless networks; and
  • Adopt authentication and encryption requirements for common public safety broadband applications and network usage.

Conclusion - Commitment to this Vision

From the beginning, I have had one goal: that we incorporate the public safety community’s requirements to design a truly nationwide, truly interoperable public safety broadband wireless network, one that is technologically sound, financially feasible and economically attractive to public safety’s potential partners. It must be one that can evolve with changing technology. It must be one that offers public safety agencies choices. This is the only plan I have seen that meets these stringent criteria. We have gotten this far by an amazing consensus and focus on the goal. This must continue if we are to succeed, and I am determined that we succeed.

[Cross-posted at The FCC Blog.]

One Response to “Creating Choices, Flexibility and Real Solutions for America’s First Responders”

  1. Fixer says:

    It is highly disingenuous for the FCC to emphasize broadband when the reliable provision of basic narrow band communications for public safety has not been dealt with as a basis for response during today's emergencies.
    Years of delay for emergency responder interoperable (poice to fire ec.) radio voice communications is a National disgrace, and an FCC prime responsibility. Second the reliability of public safety has historically rested on (centrally battery powered) landlines which have been independent of residential electric power and thus generally available during outages caused by everyday minor disasters like ice and snow or auto crashes into power poles. Thirdly the migration of telephone service to Internet (IP) based service has degraded emergency signalling from burglar, fire and medical alert systems to central stations due to transmission assurance issues (on top of electric power vulnerability).
    So we are asked to jump on an expensive information rich program when we are ignoring much less expensive fixes with near term payback in tangible safety benefits. We should not endure decreases in safey now underway to wait for some idealstic infrastructure whose increase in safety will wait for disparate projects to all come to fruition.
    Buy responder radios, regulate backup power schemes for communications pathways and ensure reliable communications via tone based signalling systems now pervasive throughout the Nation.

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