FCC interested in emergency wireless network

The Federal Communications Commission will study the feasibility of constructing a nationwide interoperable wireless network for emergency workers using some of the spectrum that TV companies will abandon as they transition to digital television.

Providing mobile broadband communications, in addition to upgraded communications equipment and training, could offer emergency responders many important capabilities, the FCC said in a recent report to Congress.

The report was required under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

One part of the act requires consideration of the use of commercial wireless technologies to the greatest extent possible in such emergency networks. But the FCC report indicates that this would be a major point of contention during the construction of such a national network.

Although commercial providers naturally favor the use of commercial technologies and providers for at least parts of the network, some comments to the FCC by public safety entities indicate the opposite should be the case.

The Arizona Regional Review Committee, for example, said that although the lack of suitable spectrum has forced many public safety entities to use commercial services, in most cases, they don’t provide the backup power, site security and redundancy that a dedicated, closed system would.

The Milwaukee Police Department said commercial wireless service "does not provide the reliability, features and flexibility [necessary] for critical internal communications."

Nevertheless, the FCC concluded that "there may now be a place for commercial providers to assist public safety in securing and protecting the homeland."

Given the needs of public safety, the FCC said it would act expeditiously to determine if some spectrum in the 700 MHz band could be modified for broadband wireless communications.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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