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The FCC’s Public Safety Broadband Blueprint: A Cost-Efficient and Effective Solution for Our Nation’s First Responders

April 9th, 2010 by Jennifer Manner - Deputy Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

In the past few weeks since the release of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, it’s refreshing to see an increased public dialogue on the many innovative and important recommendations aimed at improving the lives of Americans. The public safety chapter of the Plan outlined several such proposals, the cornerstone being the deployment of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network with dedicated capacity for public safety uses that will serve our brave first responders from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. Questions of cost to build the network and the benefits of such an ambitious investment are especially critical during a time where resources are increasingly scarce, even for the most important infrastructure projects.

The public safety network will be a multi-pronged initiative that will be a model of greater reliability and resiliency, capacity and cost savings.  Further, public safety will have access to 10 MHz of dedicated capacity as well as to commercial broadband capacity on a priority basis (up to 80 MHz of capacity in total).  This more robust and hardened public safety broadband network will provide reliable service to first responders, who everyday are dedicated to serving their communities across the country.  The ability to roam onto commercial networks and obtain priority access in times of emergency will expand and enhance current capacity, and resiliency. Further, public safety will have a choice of commercial partners, ensuring that its needs are met in the most efficient manner. 

The leveraging of commercial technologies under the FCC Plan will enable public safety agencies to achieve greater communications capabilities, but at much lower costs and ruggedized for public safety use. The Plan requests public funding to support the construction and operation of the public safety broadband network and projects the capital cost to be approximately $6.5 billion over 10 years. However, additional cost-saving efficiencies will further reduce this estimate such as sharing federal infrastructure, working with utilities, or use of state and local tower sites to improve coverage.  The Plan also calls for $6-10 billion in operating costs for the network to be funded through public funding.

The Plan’s recommendation for public funding of the public safety broadband network is at a critical juncture. It is imperative that the public safety community be given access to funds to make sure this network becomes a reality and is able to leverage commercial deployment of 4G technologies.  By leveraging commercial technologies at this juncture, the overall cost of the public safety broadband network will be substantially less to the country.  It will also ensure that this network is deployed soonest to better protect all Americans, no matter where they live. 

I don’t think there are many who would argue that there is a critical and essential need for this nationwide public safety broadband network in America. The FCC’s blue-print for a path forward is comprehensive and ultimately will save our nation time and money, while providing public safety with the robust broadband communications they need to better serve their communities. Together, we as a nation can make this happen. A clear path forward is before us.

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