March 2, 2010 - 1:42 pm
By Jamie Barnett | Chief, Public Safety & 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 on Blogband.]