Flyzik: The power to be unwired

Don't let 700 MHz get away -- there are lives that depend on it!

Here we are approaching four years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and our state and local law enforcement officers and first responders still struggle with the ability to communicate using wireless technologies in real time.

Today more than ever, federal agencies need

effective, interoperable wireless communications networks to perform mission-critical tasks in support of their homeland defense and security efforts. Those networks need to ensure that the right information is available to the right people at the right time.

A central requirement to developing mission-critical networks is adequate and available spectrum. In 1997, Congress allocated 24 MHz of wireless spectrum in the 700 MHz band to support first responder communications and 30 MHz to be auctioned for commercial use.

The spectrum is licensed to state and local government agencies, and federal users can have access to that 24 MHz only through a memorandum of understanding.

Unfortunately, there is not enough spectrum to meet federal users' growing wireless needs. In fact, they have no dedicated spectrum in any band that would allow them to deploy advanced wide-area wireless data services using commercial products. Federal agencies need spectrum in the 700 MHz band to:

  • Easily and quickly share information with other agencies at all levels of government during crises — whether man-made or natural — using interoperable wireless communications.
  • Share nationwide alerts, images or video of security threats or missing children.
  • Transmit and receive video, images and/or data from experts at agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several vendors have successfully tested technologies for such uses. They conducted the tests in the 700 MHz spectrum under temporary-use authorization, which has restricted federal agencies' ability to take advantage of the capabilities on a broader scale.

The Homeland Security and Justice departments must make a case for reallocating the remaining 30 MHz from commercial use to serve federal, state and local government needs and critical infrastructure requirements for homeland security and defense.

In addition, Congress must recognize the need for this spectrum and pass legislation that reallocates it. This is about saving lives.

Flyzik is a partner at the government technology consulting company Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates. He left the government in 2002 after 28 years of service, including serving as vice chairman of the CIO Council and chief information officer at the Treasury Department. He can be reached at jflyzik@govspecialists.com.

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