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FCC Takes Critical Step Forward in the Deployment of a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network for America’s First Responders

May 18th, 2010 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

The failed bombing attack in Times Square on May 1, 2010 is another sobering reminder of our Nation’s need for a robust communications network for our Nation’s first responders.  To address this pressing need, the Commission’s National Broadband Plan (“NBP”) recommended that a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network be created, and outlined the steps for our Nation to achieve this goal. Now, only a couple months after releasing the NBP, the Commission has taken another critical step forward to further the deployment of this nationwide network and the realization of this essential component of our Nation’s public safety and national security infrastructure.

On May 11, 2010, the Commission unanimously adopted an order granting conditional approval of 21 petitions filed by cities, counties and states that sought waiver of the Commission’s rules to permit them to move forward with the construction of regional or statewide interoperable wireless broadband networks in the 700 MHz public safety broadband spectrum.  By acting on the petitions, the Commission not only enabled the petitioners to begin deployment of their networks, but provided a potential path forward for eventual development of a truly nationwide public safety broadband network.  Of particular, importance the Commission required the waiver recipients to proceed with the deployment of their networks under uniform terms and conditions, which will ensure that all the networks being deployed are technically compatible and fully interoperable.  The Commission also directed the waiver recipients to coordinate their efforts with the newly formed Emergency Response Interoperability Center (“ERIC”), which is developing a common interoperability framework that will apply to all public safety broadband networks.

The Commission was urged by many in the public safety community to act expeditiously.  Others recommended caution due to concern over the ability to integrate any early deployments into a later network.  The waiver order, and the path forward it provides, balances these concerns.  By acting now, the Commission enables public safety to take advantage of current and imminent development of 4G technology by commercial providers, which will provide the technological basis for deployment in the 700 MHz band beginning later this year.  Public safety can also begin to engage in the broader 4G development process to ensure that the process addresses public safety’s needs.  Finally, the Commission’s action will enable the waiver recipients to take advantage of funding opportunities and leverage existing deployment plans that may be time sensitive.
In response to those that recommended caution in light of the larger rulemaking proceeding, the Commission made clear that its grant of waivers does not prejudge the outcome of that proceeding.  The Commission also noted that the deployment of actual networks could serve to inform the record in the larger rulemaking. 
There remains much more hard work to be done before our Nation’s first responders have at their ready a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network.  We are all aware that it will not happen overnight.  But, with the commencement of deployment through the Waiver Order, the Commission has taken a critical step forward toward that goal.

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