February 5, 2010 - 1:27 pm

There's a lot of excitement around the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau this week about our upcoming public forum on mobile broadband for first responders. On Wednesday, February 10 at 2:00 p.m., we'll be hosting first responders, network operators, and policy makers for a two-hour discussion about how we can solve a problem that has plagued the public safety community for far too long.

Looking back over the past decade, there is one thing that every major disaster has in common: when police, fire, EMS, and other public safety organizations couldn't communicate – between agencies and disciplines and across jurisdictional lines – lives were lost, and property was damaged or destroyed. While sharing photos, videos, and mapping data is now a part of everyday life for most Americans, the public safety community has largely been left behind. Despite all of the advances in mobile communications, the new generation of first responders still needs to carry a device that resembles a two-pound brick that only handles voice calls. Soon, however, all that will change.

One of the recommendations being explored by Commission staff for the forthcoming National Broadband Plan is the formation of an Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) at the FCC. As currently envisioned, ERIC would make sure that future public safety broadband networks use common interoperability standards and operating procedures. Before we can recommend the creation of ERIC, however, we consider it vitally important that we discuss the idea with the broader public safety community and with the commercial network operators who will likely be called upon to build the new network-of-networks.

The upcoming Public Forum will give the public and the public safety community a chance to collaborate with the FCC and commercial network operators on a framework for finally providing our nation's first responders with ubiquitous and seamlessly-interoperable mobile broadband service. Next Wednesday, we invite YOU to share your thoughts on three broad topics that will be important to this effort. First, assuming ERIC is created, we want to learn how it can best be structured to meet the needs of first responders. Second, we want to learn what tasks the community thinks ERIC should tackle, in what order, and in what time frame. Finally, we'll be looking for specific advice on how ERIC should interact with first responders in order to coordinate network development, reduce roll-out costs, and meet the differing needs of communities large and small.

The wider the participation we have for this forum, the better our final recommendations to Congress will be, so we hope you'll join us in Washington (in the FCC's Commission Meeting Room) or on-line!

PLEASE NOTE:Due to overwhelming interest in this forum and the limited time available, we regret that not every participant will have an opportunity to speak. To make the process as fair and open as possible, participants must request a three-minute speaking slot by emailing susan [dot] mclean [at] fcc [dot] gov by NOON on FEBRUARY 9, 2010. The thirty-three available slots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Those unable to make it to DC can catch the event streamed live on the web at FCC.gov/Live and can follow our coverage on Twitter.